Wednesday, August 23, 2017

War Memorials Aren't Created Equal

Memorial in Frank Ortiz Park.
The camp was at what is now the 
Casa Solana residential area
(N. Mesa Mutts photo)
 Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.

Shovel them under and let me work—
I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.

Two years, ten years, and the passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?

I am the grass.
Let me work.
Grass, by Carl Sandburg

 There is quite a bit of uproar over the de-emphasis of United States Civil War monuments to Confederate generals and other CSA warriors. Neo-Nazis and folks still fighting The War Between the States are marching in (tiki)torchlight parades and occasionally battling leftists with fists and other semi-lethal objects (and occasional lethal weapons like cars) over the symbolism of de-Civil War-izing Southern states. The whole thing chillingly reminds me of the collapse of the Weimar Republic. Presumably, our difficulty in putting the past behind us is because some of the underlying issues around that war were never completely resolved and have been overprinted with modern right wing identity politics.

Jizo lives in our yard in Casa Solana
to honor and remember the 
Santa Fe camp internees 
(N Mesa Mutts photo)
 Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and others may have been pretty keen military tacticians and in most situations, no less honorable soldiers (with the exception of incidents like Fort Pillow) than their adversaries, but they were fighting for a pretty rotten cause. Grant and Sherman may have been just as ruthless in war (Cold Harbor was a senseless Union sausage grinder and Sherman's March to the Sea presaged 20th Century economic "total" warfare), but Grant and Sherman were fighting for the winning side. The bottom line is that in our Civil War, States Rights and then secession were being used in the service of slavery. One would think that would be enough to put those Lost Cause heroes to rest quietly even if they were damn good and brave soldiers. After all, Irwin Rommel, Heinz Guderian, and Erich von Manstein were great military leaders but all their leadership did was prolong the carnage of World War II in the service of Hitler. Indeed, there were many other excellent Werhmacht generals. We don't see statues of them although no military history is complete without their stories. Maybe we should have wished that Germany had lousy generals.
Dead at Stalingrad, 1943. 
Anyone for a hero's statue?

Some memorials are to things we would rather forget but should not. The bronze plaque in Santa Fe overlooking Casa Solana, shown above, is in memorial to the colossal mistake Franklin Roosevelt made in signing Executive Order 9066, which put innocent Japanese-Americans in internment camps for the duration of World War II all because of prejudice and wartime hysteria. We have been toying with repeating that mistake.

The Czechs had an interesting approach to their own revisions of history. Rather than obliterate one particular memorial or fight  over it, they mocked it.


Monument to Soviet Tank Crews
 Prague, 1961 (Wikipedia source)
The Red armies liberated Czechoslovakia from the Germans during the spring of 1945 and promptly put up their own war memorial in Prague; the tank at the left was in honor of the Soviet armor that first reached the city. As time went on and especially after the 1948 Communist coup, that tank became the symbol of the Soviet boot on the Czech (and Slovak) neck. During the 1989 Velvet Revolution it was painted pink and eventually had a middle finger added in fitting tribute to the misery inflicted on Czechoslovakia by the Soviet government. The tank was moved permanently (except for occasional trips back for special occasions, as seen below on the barge) to a military museum rather than sitting in the national capitol. During one period, a pink tank was buried partway in the ground as an art-in-life symbolism to the fall and attempted rise of the USSR. The idea was not to forget the past but to put it in a moving context.
Pink Tank temporarily returned to Prague, 2011
complete with middle finger of fate
(Wikipedia source)
Maybe those Czechs have a point that should not be lost on Americans. I don't think it would go over too well to dress General Lee up in a pink tutu and mock Traveller, but you get my drift. Shit happened. How we remember it says far more about us than it does about our historical relatives. We need to move on, but as George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". I might add, those who do not understand and resolve the mistakes of the past are more likely to blindly repeat our many past mistakes.

Russia rising again? Or sinking into the earth?
(Wikipedia source)

Monday, August 7, 2017

New Mexican: Shooting Straight Means Hitting The Right Target


The New Mexican editorial "Shooting Straight Matters in New Mexico" criticizing a Federal concealed carry license (CHL) reciprocity bill didn't do the subject justice. This topic is a red herring to New Mexico's gun violence problems.

New Mexico accepts CHL permits from 24 states. Of the contiguous states whose permits we accept, Texas has a live fire requirement while Arizona and Colorado do not; classroom instruction also varies.  But more to the point, our gun violence problem is home grown. Untrained children, gang members, revolving door felons, disgruntled spouses, and others are our gun violence poster children. There are few if any, out of state zip codes on those mug shots, regardless of a state’s CHL requirements. 

Two laws that would reduce gun crime in New Mexico (it takes more than gun laws to reduce gun crime) are first, a set of incentives and requirements to ensure secure gun storage. Lax storage is a major conduit (via theft) of guns to illicit purposes and a significant cause of childhood accidents. If widespread gun ownership is coupled to lax storage, this creates a target-rich environment for gun thieves. Second, passage of a domestic violence/gun restraining order bill such as the one Gov. Martinez vetoed. In third place is a background check requirement when selling a gun to someone you do not know.

"May issue” permitting should be off the table. Our standards for concealed carry in New Mexico are tough but fair and transparent while "may issue" permitting lacks basic due process protections. Imagine, when renewing your driver's license, having all the paperwork in hand and a clean driving record. The DMV administrator denies your license request because traffic is too congested and in his opinion, you don’t have a good reason to drive a car. "May issue" permitting is arbitrary and capricious.

Finally, training in the safe handling and use of firearms, and knowledge of self-defense laws, are inseparable from carrying a gun in public. That's my objection to this Federal bill: the "race to the bottom" lack of proficiency requirements is inappropriate.  My CHL instructor Mike Grimler commented in the New Mexican: "...I firmly believe that anyone who incorporates a firearm into a personal self-defense plan...assumes a huge societal responsibility...and, part of that responsibility incorporates firearm knowledge, knowledge of use of force laws, and demonstration of firearm marksmanship and handling proficiency, which can only be attained through comprehensive and extensive training..." Mike, with his comment, shot a rhetorical bullseye.

Some compare CHL to driver's and marriage licenses, i.e., states recognize each other's driver's licenses while Obergefell requires states to recognize each other's same-sex marriage licenses. Universal CHL could be accomplished with thoughtful consensus requirements. But with gun politics so polarizing, such a solution is unlikely. Thus, either a federal law or court order is the only solution to changing the crazy quilt status quo of who can carry where in the United States if we desire to do so. 

The bottom line? Deadly force should be the absolute last resort in confrontational situations. Guns should never be America's Maslow's Hammer when resolving conflicts, whether they be personal or political issues. That has to be the bottom line. 

Finally, for an example of just plain inappropriate even if Constitutional, go here.