A long time ago, my sophomore English teacher, Father William Campbell, saw something in my writing and predicted that I would someday become a newspaper columnist. He suggested the perfect title for my column--"Leaves of the Palm." Now that I have a little extra time on my hands I've decided to put Father Campbell's prediction to the test. I'm going to start using this blog site not just to reprint opinion pieces I've published elsewhere but to try to get more of my ideas and opinions out there. Feedback is welcome. To find out more about me, please check out my Web site: www.EdwardFPalm.com (Click on any of the photos below for an enlarged view.)
I heard on MSNBC today that the current turmoil in the Middle East has reignited the Obama birther controversy, especially among those who think he is a Muslim Manchurian-candidate-type sleeper agent intent on destroying America. Ask yourself, would a Muslim sleeper-agent go by a Muslim name?
Still, I could wish that Obama would take a more militant stance toward the current attacks on our embassies and consulates. I was particularly concerned to hear one demonstrator quoted as saying that the demonstrations would continue until everyone involved in the making of the that anti-Muslim film is punished. Obama needs to make clear, in no uncertain terms, that we are not going to apologize for, and will defend, our core values, especially freedom of expression. The problem is that we are dealing with the force of ignorance--with people who can't conceive of a separation of church and state and who consider divergent points of view to be an affront to their beliefs. Frankly, I don't know what the solution is in the Middle East, but I think there is a lesson in all this for our religious right. --EFP
since Vietnam, it seems that our foreign policy has consisted of one part
reality and three parts wishful thinking.
Case in point: characterizing the turmoil in the Middle East as “pro-democracy
movements.” I fear that what we are witnessing are actually pro-theocracy
Here is a link to my latest column: American Exceptionalism Reconsidered. For the most part, it has been very well received. But I remain amazed at the vehemence of the people who would revise American history to make us a Christian nation and to deny that our founding fathers ever intended to erect a "wall of separation between church and state" (Jefferson). Some wag--I forgot whom--once called on President Obama to "build back this wall." I wish I had thought of that. --EFP
(One of the few artifacts to survive the arson fire on Feb. 18, 1985. Click on the photo for a better view.)
My Kitsap Sun column this week tells the story behind the first op-ed I published in a major newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle. I was paid $35.00 for it--35 pieces of silver according to some of my fellow Marines. This week's column explains why my op-ed provoked such a reaction, and I thought some readers may want to see what all the fuss was about. Copied below, please find "A Book Burning at Berkeley," as it appeared in the Chronicle on March 2, 1985. --EFP
Callaghan Hall, home of Naval and Air Force ROTC programs on the Berkeley campus, was completely gutted two weeks ago in an arson fire. Last December, an unexploded Molotov cocktail was discovered at the rear of the building.
As the Marine Officer Instructor assigned to the Naval ROTC unit, I found myself waiting outside the charred ruins the next day in hopes of retrieving some of my class notes and records when a young coed with a cherubic face passed by on a bicycle. "I'm glad it burned!" she yelled as she pedaled past.
As an academic turned Marine Corps officer, I wasn't particularly surprised at her attitude. But I think she doesn't understand the role of ROTC in our society or what burned up in Callaghan Hall.
After four enlisted years that included a 13-month stint in Vietnam, I went to college in 1969 under the G.I. Bill and wound up with a Ph.D. in English and American literature. I remember the confrontational days of the '60s and was essentially in sympathy with the anti-war movement. It left me with my own reservations concerning the place of ROTC in an institution ostensibly committed to free inquiry and unhampered self-expression.
The realities of the academic market place forced me to take my opportunities where I could find them, so here I sit, a somewhat frustrated academic turned Marine Corps captain.
By the time I was eligible for an ROTC assignment, I began to see ROTC in a different light. I had seen enough militarism to understand that ROTC is founded on the principle that, given our strong belief in civilian control of the military, we need the infusion of liberally educated officers that ROTC programs on college and university campuses provide.
I believe ROTC provides an important leavening force in a system, the military, all too often marked by the sort of hubris our military monasteries tend to inculcate. Such arrogant overconfidence in our ability to command and control any situation played no small role in getting us mired, and keeping us stuck, in Vietnam long after the folly had become painfully apparent.
(Pontificating aside, I volunteered for this assignment for quite selfish reasons. If I couldn't return to academia as an assistant professor, I could at least get back into the academic environment. And all things considered, I would rather be a Marine officer than one of the underemployed Ph.D.'s driving taxi cabs.")
The reaction of the young student to the destruction of Callaghan Hall reminded me of something written by noted educator and literary critic Wayne Booth. "Too early a moral judgment," he wrote, "is precisely what stands in the way of an education for many young people." [My memory was faulty in this pre-Internet age. It was actually William G. Perry.] I wish I could have pointed that out to that young girl, who had obviously decided we represented evil incarnate, and I wish she could have been there to witness one small part of the fire's aftermath.
I was present when Major Cy McCurdy, a member of the Air Force ROTC staff, recovered the charred remains of his personal and professional library. I imagine that young girl, who was so quick to judge, would have been just a bit surprised to discover McCurdy going through the ashes not of military tomes, but volumes by Herodotus, Thucydides, Gibbon and everyone else who has been anybody in the field of history. He lost hundreds of books.
It was then that the irony and the pity of our situation hit me. We have suffered an old-fashioned book burning--here at Berkeley of all places.
During the '60s I had heard of several ROTC buildings being vandalized and even burned. But the full impact of such acts didn't come home to me until I was confronted by those burned books.
As anyone in the Peace and Conflict Studies Department at Berkeley will tell you, the war process depends on turning others into mere symbols and even actors within our personal psychic melodramas. Therein lies the essential absurdity and tragedy of what seems to have happened on our campus.
That young lady should be ashamed of herself.
This time around, I thought I would indulge in some true confessions. The original article was posted on September 18, 2009. For those who are interested, below I have added the rest of the story. --EFP
I remember that my mother and stepfather couldn’t resist driving by on the morning after the second bombing. Much to my surprise, they allowed me to come along. The left stucco sidewall was bowed out, like a giant abscess. There was a jagged crack running from the ground to the roof. That image haunts me still. All the windows were blown out. The lawn was littered with glass shards. Even mother seemed to be taken aback by the sight. I’m sure she never expected things to go that far. My stepfather seemed relieved that it was finally over. He, too, was a racist, but he and my mother had had bitter arguments over her activism. He had mother’s number. He knew she was enjoying the attention, and he feared that she was needlessly putting all three of us at risk.
A local contractor, who just happened to live in Collins Park, and who had access to dynamite, was soon arrested and later convicted. He went to prison. His wife went door-to-door trying to collect money for her husband’s legal expenses. I still remember when she came to our door. My mother refused to contribute. She claimed to have been broke and behind in her bills, neither of which was true.
A Christian friend reminded me of a couple points I wish I had had room to make in my column "Alzheimer's: It's All in the Family." (The title to this post is a link to that column.)
There is a theory of the mind that I think is consistent with Christian theology, although it is admittedly closer to the Eastern view. This theory holds that the brain does not create consciousness; it receives it. It makes perfect sense to me that as the Alzheimer’s plaques form in the brain they progressively interfere with the reception of consciousness. However, I do wonder if, like a radio receiver with a loose connection or a misfiring diode (or whatever), sometimes, for brief intervals, reception returns to normal or close to it.
I say that because I remember how on my Aunt Jo’s 79th birthday, when the disease was fairly far advanced, she seemed to be her old self for a few moments. When no one else was in the room, she stood looking at the cake and actually initiated a conversation with me. Addressing me by name, she said, “Can you believe it, I’m actually 79 today?” Sadly, it didn’t last. She didn’t say anything to anyone else for the rest of the evening.
I suppose one could also call this a moment of grace. I know that it is a common occurrence for terminally ill people to rally shortly before the end, almost as if they are given an opportunity to say their goodbyes.
In any event, what I witnessed on the evening of my aunt’s 79th birthday may just have been one of those examples of how science and faith intertwine. --Ed
My friend and former Vietnam sergeant, Bill Cook, was just commenting on the shortcomings of today's electric-car technology. He pointed out that I would be hard-pressed to drive the 100 miles from my home to Forks, Washington, in an electric car. As I admitted to Bill, even if I made it to Forks in an electric car, there would be no recharging stations--only vampires and werewolves, according to Stephenie Meyer of Twilight series fame.
But it occurs to me that this scenario would make for a good contemporary twist on a classic horror movie theme. I can see it now: It is a dark, stormy night, and an environmentally conscious young guy and his low-carbon-footprint, beautiful young girlfriend are motoring through Forks in their electric car when the battery gives out. They knock on the door of a spooky-looking old Victorian mansion hoping to find a place to plug in and recharge their car, and . . . .
Well, you know the rest, except that the vampire of the manor could be a global-warming denier. That and his thirst for blood would make for a powerful motivation and some damned good acting. --S/f, EFP
P.S. to Stephenie: I expect to be paid if you use my idea.
I just heard Newt Gingrich brag that he is the only candidate who can defeat a "moderate." When did "moderation" become a bad thing? Do we really need an uncompromising ideologue as our president? The hard right has already redefined "liberal" and "progressive" as undesirable, subversive attitudes. Now Gingrich has added "moderate," and sadly, no one seems to be challenging him on that point.
George Orwell, where are you when we need you? --EFP
What's wrong with this picture?
I am watching MSNBC coverage of President Obama addressing people at Disney World in Florida. He is touting his plan to ease visa restrictions so that the "emerging middle classes" in China and Brazil can more easily get to the U.S.A. to spend their money.
Whatever happened to the emerging American middle class? Over the weekend, I caught a snippet of an interview with two prominent political scientists who claim we have become essentially an oligarchy instead of a democracy. I believe they are on to something, especially if Obama's vision of rebuilding our economy includes having more people working in service industries, accommodating foreign tourists. See the Palm-Print above for a helpful hint toward thriving in this new economy. --EFP
My latest column is on the web today and will be print tomorrow: Alzheimer's--It's All in the Family. The photo is of my Aunt Jo, who figures prominently in my current column. I took this photo in 1982, when she was in the terminal stages of Alzheimer's. She is shown here with my son Daniel, whom she used to help care for when she was still in the early stages of the disease. (She loved to read to Daniel. Books such as "The Cat in the Hat" and "Go, Dog, Go!" never got old for her--an ironic benefit of the disease..) By the time I took this photo, she could no longer speak and didn't seem to recognize the rest of us. But, clearly, she still felt a connection to Daniel. I'm pleased to report that the Alzheimer's Association of America did use this photo on their web site for a time. --EFP
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was right to call the video of Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan “utterly deplorable.” I agree. There are certain values we cannot let go of, even in extremis, and remain human. But I am not surprised that it happened. Anyone wondering why should perhaps turn back to my column of Nov. 10: Reality and Reflections on Veterans Day
The one factor in mitigation I would point to is the nature of the enemy today’s Marines are now facing.
I always felt that the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army didn’t hate us. It was just a war; it wasn’t personal. They didn’t despise everything we stood for. They didn’t behead American prisoners of war. They only wanted us and our influence out of their country.
To the Taliban and al-Qaeda, however, we’re “infidels.” Not just our presence, but our very existence threatens the theocratic paradise they envision. Our troops certainly feel and understand that, making this a much more bitter war than mine was. --EFP
Reflections on the Current War and on the All-Volunteer Force
Maybe I am indeed what a university administrator once termed me, an avis rara. I am a former enlisted Marine, a Vietnam veteran, and a retired Marine officer who believes we did indeed start "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time" in invading Iraq. An America that starts wars, that keeps political prisoners, and that tortures people (and waterboarding is indeed torture) is not the America I grew up in. It would seem that we as a nation have learned none of the lessons of Vietnam, and that pains me--so much so that I've been moved to try to share my thoughts and opinions on how we are going wrong in a series of op-ed pieces. I've also has some success recently in placing commentaries on the war and the All-Volunteer Force with National Public Radio's All Things Considered. I intend to include the introductions and the web site links to those pieces. Please feel free to e-mail me and let me know if you find my writing insightful or perhaps inciteful.
My NPR Commentaries
[Click on the links to listen.]
Spending Your Christmas in a War Zone by Ed Palm [3 min 29 sec] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6632117 All Things Considered, December 15, 2006 · Commentator Ed Palm spent two Christmases in Vietnam during the war. During the first, he got to go to the Bob Hope USO show. But despite the good cheer, Palm says he left sadder than he arrived. ........................ Knowing Haditha Could Happen; Wishing It Didn't by Ed Palm [3 min 47 sec] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5614040 All Things Considered, August 3, 2006 · The Associated Press has reported that an initial U.S. military investigation supports allegations that U.S. Marines deliberately shot 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha last November. The Haditha case is one of a string of cases in which U.S. troops are accused of deliberately killing civilians in Iraq. Commentator Ed Palm is a retired U.S. Marine major. He says that he would like to think that Marines were not capable of this kind of killing. At the same time, he knows from first-hand experience how it might happen. ............................. Vietnam Vet Sees Changing Receptions to Service by Ed Palm [2 min 33 sec] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5455027 All Things Considered, June 6, 2006 · Commentator Ed Palm, a veteran of the Vietnam War, says that for many years, Vietnam veterans were sent the message that they should not talk about their experiences. But that has changed. He says that since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, all service members are lionized as heroes, regardless of whether they did anything heroic. .................................. Problems with an All-Volunteer Force by Ed Palm [3 min 16 sec] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5157068 All Things Considered, January 13, 2006 · Commentator Ed Palm is a retired Marine officer who lives in the Seattle area. He's also a Vietnam veteran. Palm sees a disturbing new trend in the all-volunteer force. ................................. Draft Left Fighting of Wars to Younger Soldiers by Ed Palm [3 min 58 sec] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5066475 All Things Considered, December 22, 2005 · Commentator Ed Palm says when he fought in Vietnam, most of the men he served with were 19 or 20 years old. It seems to him that more of the troops in Iraq are older. He says this is one advantage of the Vietnam-era draft: It kept the business of fighting wars to the younger men. .................................................................
Women Warriors: Shouldn't We Talk About This?
Friday, January 18, 2008 Seattle Times By Edward F. Palm Guest Columnist Special to The Times
In one of the most affecting scenes in Homer's "Iliad," a condescending Hector, knowing he is about to face the indomitable Achilles in single combat, in essence, tells his distraught wife Andromache not to worry her pretty little head because "War shall be the business of men."
The scene is affecting for its dramatic irony. We the readers know, as Andromache would have known, and as I believe Homer knew, that war has never been and never will be just the "business of men." Women have always supplied the sons and husbands and lovers who fight and die — and in Homer's day and beyond, of course, women were typically counted among the spoils of war.
I am reminded of this passage every time I hear that another woman warrior has been seriously wounded or killed in Iraq. The irony is that women are still barred by law from serving in direct combat roles, but the distinction long ago became meaningless with so many women assigned to direct combat-support roles in an unconventional war with no front line.
Personally, as a Vietnam veteran of a certain age, I don't have a problem with women serving in combat. I look at this development in the same way that former New York Mayor Ed Koch viewed allowing women to join the Fire Department. In his book, as long as a woman could carry a 180-pound mayor down a ladder, Koch observed, she was qualified. If a woman can hack the training and wants to do it, then so be it.
What surprises me is that we, as a culture, have evolved to this point with so little discussion or debate.
I remember, for instance, all the controversy when women were first admitted to the service academies in 1976. One pundit on the conservative side predicted that the American people would react with shock and outrage when the first servicewomen come home in body bags or missing limbs. That pundit was wrong. From Jessica Lynch onward, a lot of women have come back seriously wounded and maimed, others have been killed, and there has been nary a ripple of protest based on gender from the American public.
Clearly, the question of whether women can or should serve in combat has been overtaken by events. The fact is, women are doing the job and doing it well. We might as well amend the law to reflect the current reality.
But the unanswered question, it seems to me, is why the American public has been so accepting of this development. Are we now acknowledging that women can and should be allowed to do it, or are we merely willing to relegate military service to whoever will do it, regardless of gender? The Army's current recruiting difficulties suggest the latter.
Either way, one thing is certain: War is no longer the business of men. Or, to fall back on a retrograde advertising slogan of some years ago: "You've come a long way, baby."
The problem is, you seem to have gotten to this point largely by default.