Thursday, March 22, 2012

Call to arms

Here's my soap box for the day. I think we need to bring back the draft. The most recent incident involving our soldiers abroad, i.e., the shooting of 16 innocent Afghan civilians, most of them women and children, "allegedly" by Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, points up one of the big drawbacks of our continuing to rely on a volunteer army. That army gets spread too thin. Bales had had three combat tours in Iraq -- being wounded twice -- before being sent to Afghanistan. He didn't want to go, had thought he wouldn't have to go, but go he did...and, apparently, snapped.

A number of possible contributing factors to this mad act have been mentioned by the press: the severe wounding of a friend of Bales' a few days before, the fact that Bales resented having been passed over for a promotion, an apparent problem dealing with anger, as indicated by his having had to take an anger management course for an assault case that was later dropped, when he was a civilian, possible marital tensions. While any or all of those may have contributed to Bales' going over the edge, I suspect that a major contributor was that he was simply worn out with what must have come to seem like pointless war.

Of course, other soldiers also put in multiple tours, have problems in their marriages, lose friends in combat, and do not snap and go murder a bunch of women and children while they sleep. But many of those soldiers do come back with various mental problems, which adversely affect their attempts to adjust to life after combat duty.

I don't see anything wrong with a country requiring a period of public service duty of all of its able-bodied citizens, female as well as male. I'm not a proponent of females doing combat duty, but there are many other ways they can (and do) serve. And I think being in the military for a while would do most young people a heckuva lot of good. Get them out of the damn malls, and off their i-phones; teach them discipline, responsibility, how to defend themselves and others, have them meeting and having to work with/get along with all kinds of people.

I do realize that there are some people who are wholly unsuited to military life. I would have been one of them -- I'm sure if I had been drafted I would have spent an inordinate amount of time in the brig, for insubordination, since I would have balked at any order I considered stupid or unreasonable. Perhaps young people should have a choice: working for two years in something like the state version of the old CCC, that exists in many states (see Note of Aug. 3, 2008), or spending those two years in the military. At any rate, serving their country. Then we really would "all be in this together."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Looking back

It's interesting how limited our vision of our parents is, even if we think we know them very well, have them all figured out.

When my mother passed away two years ago, my younger sister sent me most of Mother's old pictures, since J is "not a picture person," and she knew I was. I have gone through the box a number of times, including when I was pulling pictures of my younger self to go into the Melody photo album that my mother had started for me, and never finished. However, just the other day I began a serious effort to re-do Mother's own old photo album -- the kind with black pages -- which had several pictures of her first wedding still attached, and some small, old snapshots, but from which most of the photos had long since become detached. I made the administrative decision to untie the album, put the wedding pix more toward the back, and fill the earlier pages with the pictures of her at two and six (would never have known that was my mother) , at 12 (yes, by then she was Gary), of her in her little Scotch lassie outfit, which was the costume of the pep squad at her high school, where she twirled baton, eventually becoming drum majorette, of her as football queen, beaming alongside her high school sweetheart who had been elected Football King.

I have said numerous times that my mother was beautiful, but it was only in looking through these pictures that I saw how true that really was. I remember perfectly well that I never thought of her as beautiful when I was young. She was just mother, who could be very strict, did not hesitate to spank, but who was wonderful to you when you were sick, whom I was mortified by when I was in junior high because she was so much younger than most girls' mothers (she had me when she was 18, making her only 31 when I was 13), and did young things like lie out in the back yard in shorts and a tiny halter, sunbathing.

In these pictures I see not only her beauty -- which became dramatic when her youthful blond/light brown hair turned a darker brown, and was eventually helped along by Lady Clairol -- but her vitality, her humor, her sense of fun. Most of the pictures were taken at family gatherings, because family was always very much at the center of my mother's life. You see her being playful with her old uncle, who is smiling despite himself. You see her crossing her eyes in the picture that was taken by a professional photographer at a nightclub she, my father, her brother and his wife, and one of my father's best friends visited in Juarez, Mexico. You see her hamming it up with three other ladies in front of a table that is beautifully laid for cake and coffee -- my mother had excellent taste, and always knew how to make things look "nice". In another photo she's laughingly feeding cake to a woman who is obviously just as pregnant as she is (the woman was the wife of one of my father's friends, whom I have a bare memory of); and then there they are, lying on the floor -- still laughing -- with the obvious remains of a party all around them -- cake plates, cluttered ash trays, champagne bottle and glasses (back in those days they didn't know you weren't supposed to drink, or smoke, when you were pregnant. Since my mother did both during all five of her pregnancies, I suppose it's a wonder my siblings and I aren't in worse shape than we are.)

To me the true irony of my mother's beauty is that she had three daughters, none of whom came close to her in looks. Mother used to say about all of her children that if she didn't know she'd had us, she wouldn't think we were hers, and it was true; we all took after our fathers (and there were two fathers involved, since my mother married twice.) I used to say that the only things I'd inherited from my mother were a flat chest, and a temper.

From the time I was about fifteen my mother and I did not get along. I was too independent-minded, and Mother was too determined that I was going to "mind." In today's parlance, I think it's safe to say that my mother was a control freak. She initially hated with a passion the man I fell in love with and married -- but then, none of her children's chosen partners was ever good enough. With time her religiosity and tendency to be judgmental increased, making her less pleasant to be around. All of this colored how I "saw" my mother. But oh the wonder of photography: I can look back now, and see her as she was, as I never saw her before. And experience a little enlightenment.