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H2O Man

H2O Man's Journal
H2O Man's Journal
July 31, 2014

1968 (Your Help, Please!)

“Arguably the most historic year of modern times, 1968 was full of tragedy.” -- CNN

Episode 8 of CNN’s series about “The Sixties” airs tonight at 9 pm/est. (The program replays later tonight.) The earlier episodes have been, in my opinion, of a quality well worth watching. They have covered issues including the Cuban Missile Crises, Civil Rights movement, JFK’s murder, the Beatles, and the space race. Tonight’s program focuses on 1968.

The Tet Offensive; McCarthy’s New Hampshire upset; LBJ steps aside (kind of); King is killed; RFK is killed; the Democratic National Convention; Nixon; the White Album; and much, much more.

If you weren’t alive back then, watching tonight’s documentary may help put 1968 into perspective. It was, quite literally, a revolutionary year in American history. There was something close to a civil war, though there were more than two sides fighting.

If you were around back then, I would also recommend watching it. I do not tend to watch CNN much, myself, but I have enjoyed this series. I suspect that you will like tonight’s episode!

Now, if possible, I’d like your help, to make this both an entertaining and worthwhile thread. If you experienced 1968, what events stick out in your mind? And why?

If you weren’t alive back then, what are your impressions of that year, based upon what you have learned about it? Also, do you have any questions about 1968 -- and what made it so special -- that you might pose to D.U.’s elders?

Thank you for your consideration, and hopefully, participation. And enjoy the show!

Your friend,
H2O Man

July 30, 2014

The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972

I’m looking forward to reading “The Nixon Tapes: 1971 - 1972,” edited by David Brinkley and Luke Nichter. The authors are professors of history; Brinkley at Rice University, and Nichter at Texas A&M. Brinkley has been appearing on various cable news programs, promoting the book, which highlights some of the previously unpublished transcripts of the infamous Nixon White House tapes.

Richard Nixon is, in my opinion, the strangest man to ever serve as President of the United States. Until 2001, he was also the most repulsive, pathological liar to inhabit the White House. I assume that other D.U.ers from my generation had, like myself, assumed that the American public could never elect a worse human being to that office, until Ronald Reagan was twice elected. (I do not believe that George W. Bush won either the 2000 or 2004 election.)

Yet, for all of his unattractive character flaws, Richard Nixon is a fascinating case study. I have more books by or about Nixon, than any other republican politician. In fact, I likely have more Nixon books, than the combined total of books about other republican presidents. Each time I add to my collection, I feel slightly uneasy, and ask myself, “Why? Why another book about this criminal?”

Part of I reason would be because of that era in our nation’s history. It was, of course, “the best of times, and the worst of times.” Nixon’s political career spanned from the period before World War Two, until the end of the Vietnam War. His aborted presidency came about during the most revolutionary year in the 20th century -- which will be covered on CNN this Thursday, for those interested in that series on the 1960s.

It also seems interesting to me that Nixon is one of the two American presidents who suffered a severe psychological break-down in office. LBJ was the other. Curious the timing there, as they followed JFK, a man that both Nixon and Johnson’s presidencies were closely tied to. (I do not believe that either played any direct role in the plot to kill Kennedy. Both benefited, of course. And both were aware of how JFK died.)

Nixon was also an intelligent individual, who understood -- and at times mastered -- the politics of power. More, although I would have denied it at the time (had anyone asked me), Nixon did a few good things as president. I’m not in agreement with those who insist that Nixon was “more liberal” than Barack Obama, however. A person can only be evaluated and understood properly within the context of the era they inhabit.

The extremely complex series of criminal activities that are known as “Watergate” were an important part of the shaping of my social-political outlook. Hence, I collect books that explore much further than the limited events of “Watergate” that defines most Americans’ understanding of it. Together, those events posed a far greater threat to our Constitutional democracy than the various committees investigating it, or prosecutions of the criminals involved, ever disclosed. Later threats -- including the Iran-Contra scandals, and the various Bush-Cheney actions such as the Plame Scandal -- could not have happened but for Watergate. In fact, they were outgrowths of the great presidential scandal of my lifetime.

The good books about Nixon do not sanitize his presidency. While they give credit to him and Kissinger for some foreign policy accomplishments, they expose both as war criminals. More, they document the strong ties between “organized crime” and Nixon’s political career, and show hoe the Huston Plan would evolve into the Patriot Act.

This book will not have the shock value that the first book of transcribed tapes had, when the New York Times published a collection of those made public by the Watergate investigations. But, along with a couple of books of tapes published in between, they provide a unique view of that strangest of American presidents, Richard Nixon.

July 29, 2014

Nifty Shapes of Grains

“Any time two people think just alike, it means only one of them is thinking.”
-- Malcolm X

One of the curious dynamics on DU:GD is how members view various public figures. Quite often, forum members recognize that political figures are human beings, hence a combination of good and bad. Yet, surprisingly often, this is not the case. In some instances, because a person disagrees with a politician on one issue, they present that figure as all bad. In other instances, people present a political figure as all good.

This leads to another unattractive DU:GD dynamic, in which if a member expresses an opinion on a public figure -- be it approving or disapproving -- a cluster of forum members will accuse that person of being an apologist/cheerleader, or a troll seeking to destroy unity. In my opinion, while this may be true in a few cases, it is so few as to be insignificant. (Indeed, I view anything that an apologist/cheerleader and/or troll has to say as totally insignificant.)

Now, these dynamics are distinct from the very real inability that a number of forum members have that prevents them from rationally discussing specific “hot issues,” such as racism and sexism. Yet, there can be overlap -- for example, when discussing Barack Obama, who is the first brown-skinned American president.

A realistic view of President Obama has to take into account several factors. These include the nature of the presidency ….what a president can and cannot do, no matter who is in office. In my opinion, in our current circumstances (for, say, the past 40 years), a president can do more “bad” than “good.” For example, while Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama are better men than Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, the system has handcuffed their ability to make positive contributions, in a manner far more extreme than it limited Reagan or Bush to do severe damage to the national fabric.

This obviously involves things such as the make-up of both houses of Congress, as well as the Supreme Court. This is not limited to simply the number of democrats versus republicans in the House or Senate, for many democrats in Washington are corporate puppets. One need look no further than George W. Bush’s post-9/11 behavior to find examples of democrats betraying the nation.

An unfortunate reality is that corporations enjoy far too much influence at all levels of our government. They do in your town or city, just as in your state, just as in Washington. Hence, politicians must deal with that reality. Political leaders of our era have, however, shown a distinct unwillingness to take a balanced approach between corporate greed and human need. The lack of ethical standards in this area is always a valid measure of any politician.

That a public figure makes an error, no matter if it is in their personal or professional life, is a different matter. Yet, to a number of people here -- perhaps conditioned by the corporate media -- such an error not only outweighs all of that person’s positive contributions, but it permanently disqualifies them from being considered worthy of any respect.

If being perfect is the only acceptable status for being a leader in society, that standard would rule out virtually every human being. FDR, JFK, RFK, MLK, and Malcolm all made mistakes. So did others, such as Gandhi and John Lennon.

Perhaps I’m unrealistic in thinking that DU would be more interesting, even more valuable, if there were fewer splattering of concrete thinking taking place.

July 25, 2014

Reel Life & Real Death

Tonight on “Erin Burnett OutFront,” the host was moderating a discussion on CNN’s coverage of the warfare in the Middle East. One guest, Michael Oren, expressed his opinion that it is wrong for the media to carry photographs of dead or injured children. He noted that in Israel, the media will not even show a wounded soldier’s face.

I disagree strongly with Oren, who served as Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2009 to 2013. My disagreement on this specific issue is distinct from my opinion of the current violence.

Americans of my generation grew up watching the US war in Vietnam on the evening news. Newspapers and magazines featured photographs that documented the hell that war created.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., read an account of the widespread suffering of children in Vietnam, he decided he needed to speak out forcefully against the war. This article in “Ramparts,” by William Pepper, featured photographs of children burned by napalm, that haunted King’s conscience.

By the time Ronald Reagan became president, the military-government had determined they would not allow journalists access to warfare in the future. The reasons for this are obvious. Reporting on wars has never been the same. Instead, it comes across in a highly sanitized form, that hides the true nature of war from the American public.

There is really only one reason that journalists are able to present photos of dead and injured children to their audience: because this war is killing and injuring hundreds of children.

This raises one question -- what impact do you think the current coverage is having on the public's perception?

H2O Man

July 25, 2014

War vs Peace

Q: Speaking of land, what do you think of a homeland for the Palestinians?

Chief Paul Waterman: They own land. They always have. There is enough room for them and the Jews. This conflict isn’t just about land. It’s about who controls the land that produces money. It’s not about religion. The Creator isn’t taking sides in a conflict over money.
(From the interview I did with Onondaga Chief Waterman, shortly after 9/11.)

The violence in Gaza is unacceptable. No matter if one favors the Israelis or the Palestinians, the level of violence that is destroying human lives is terribly wrong. That people have strong feelings about who is at fault is understandable. Yet it is the emotional currents that sweep rational thinking away, and leaves death and destruction in its wake.

Over the many years that I knew Chief Waterman, I came to recognize him as one of the wisest human beings I had met. The Onondaga Nation, which serves as the Fire Keepers of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy, has long held other tribal peoples around the globe in high regard. This, of course, includes the Israelis. It also includes the Palestinians.

Yet, I do not completely agree with Paul’s position on this topic. Land is certainly a central issue in the conflict in the Middle East. This includes the idea of controlling land that the Israelis believe is necessary to secure their people’s safety. The Jewish experience, and not limited to the horrors of Nazi Germany, is obviously a significant factor which explains Israel’s foreign policy. One does not have to believe that this justifies any or all of that nation’s recent behaviors, to appreciate that thinking.

Add to this the frequency of threats to destroy Israel by some of the Islamic extremists from that region of the world, and we see why, at least in their own minds, the current leaders of Israel engage in the often brutal behaviors that we see too often. I am reminded of something that basketball great Bill Russell said: “Chose your enemies carefully, for they are often who you come to resemble most closely.”

The experiences of the Palestinians is also a story of great suffering. By and large, they have been the victims of a modern world that places little or no value upon their well-being. Land that is historically theirs has been stolen from them. Their only real compensation has been a culture of poverty, which no one would consider a good deal.

In many instances, which tend to be ignored, the average people in this region get along without hatred. This, too, is a part of the human experience. It’s far easier to fear and despise a group of people you don’t know, compared to individuals who you know as neighbors. Obviously, this is not always the case -- there are people who’s being is so saturated with hatred, that they will always pose a threat to others. Yet, I think of a recent middleweight contender, an Israeli who trained in a Palestinian gym. This created a mutual respect between those individuals. While it is but one tiny example, it shows that people can get along. For hatred is nor inherent -- rather, it is a passion that must be taught and practiced, not completely unlike boxing skills.

Being an old man, living in the wilderness, I often prefer to read (and re-read) books on a given topic, rather than limit my thinking to the materials provided by the mass-media. I’ve picked out two books, to carry out to my pond for my afternoon reading. One is Thomas Cahill’s “The Gifts of the Jews’: Desert Nomads Changed the World With the Word.” The second is Reza Aslan’s “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.”

I find myself wondering why neither the Israelis nor Palestinians are producing non-violent leadership -- not within that group that are identified as political leaders per say, and not even limited to their religious leadership. I do remember that Ho Chi Minh said that Gandhi was fortunate to be opposed to the British Empire, for if he attempted his campaign against the French, he would have died, unknown, as soon as he started.

Still, I am convinced that there is no military “solution” to the current warfare, much less the ongoing cycle of violence in the Middle East. Indeed, the only long-term resolution could come only from brave individuals who are willing to risk peace. And that really should come from both sides.

These are troubling times we live in. I am going out to my pond, to spend the day reading, praying for peace and justice to break out, and to feed the fish and birds.

H2O Man

July 22, 2014

"Racism" & Group Psychosis

“I would like to draw a distinction here between racism and tribalism. Tribalism is a better description of our group psychosis.

“In our societies, people are conditioned along tribal lines. I use the word ‘tribalism’ because racism presupposes that there is more than one race of people on this planet. That is just another lie that we live with. There is only one race of people, the human race. We all belong to it. The drawing of artificial distinctions among people, and skin color is the most artificial of all, is the result of tribal conditioning. Tribes attempt to ensure the survival of people who look like them, act like them, smell like them, talk like them, or believe like them at the cost of any other segment of humanity. A tribal mentality divides people into opposites, black and white, French and English, rich and poor, Muslim and Christian, or any other unconscious way that divisions can be made. Only in the example of language and religion are the differences more than superficial, although still not meaningful.”
-- Dr. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter; Eye of the Hurricane; Lawrence Hill Books; 2011; pages 113 - 114.

The discussion of certain topics on DU:GD tends to result in arguments and hostility. These topics include the “-isms,” such as racism and sexism. In part, the disagreements are rooted in the models that people use to define these issues. Those models have an impact upon the way various individuals perceive and experience the world around them. Too often, of course, these result in an “us versus them” concept of the larger society.

The behaviors associated with those perceptions and experiences may change over time, but their flavor is often identical. For example, Eugene “Bull” Connor was the poster boy for the violence that grows from hatred in the south in the 1960s; while Patrick Buchanan was a White House fixture in the 1970s and ‘80s. Yet both were motivated by the thought that non-white people were intent upon becoming full citizens of the United States. Each projected their personal pathologies upon non-white people, and were haunted by their own paranoid delusions that white folks would be victimized.

The model that Rubin used to understand both group and individual behaviors was “tribalism.” His second book addresses this in the above quote. He spoke at length about it at two of the public presentations that I was with him for ( Colgate University on February 27, 2001, and Binghamton University on April 25, 2001). I think that it has value, although it will not replace the various concepts of “racism” that different people use.

In part, I suspect, his perceptions were based upon his being incarcerated for 20 years. I remember that Malcolm X often said that prisons were second only to universities, in offering an opportunity for education. Not surprisingly, our nation’s prison-industrial complex provides a somewhat different view of the phenomena of “racism” than even a university department that studies prisons adheres to.

This does not mean that one is “right” and another is “wrong.” Just the opposite. For there are often more than one way of understanding any human behavior -- especially those with long and ingrained histories. Likewise, some beliefs are simply wrong. For example, I recently read parts of a discussion about racism on another internet site. One gentleman insisted that Native Americans had a long history of racism, before 1492. Sad that anyone would publicly reveal such gross ignorance; pathetic that he believes that nonsense.

Rubin used to say that there five large tribes: black, brown, red, yellow, and white. Each of these larger tribes contains numerous sub-tribes; for example, the English, French, and Germans. At various times, these sub-tribes go to war with one another -- WW1 and WW2 being obvious examples. Yet, he noted, if a non-white tribe was in conflict with any one of the white sub-tribes, the whites tended to unite to protect their own.

The larger white tribe would dominate the globe for many years, in large part by dividing and conquering the various non-white peoples of the earth. And the history of the last few centuries clearly supports that. The actual history of the conflict in Vietnam, if we consider it from WW2 on, provides an interesting example of how that process worked -- at least for a while.

The tragic, and often confusing conflicts that we witness around the globe today are often rooted in tribal and sub-tribal identifications. The post-WW1 and WW2 maps that were drawn exist primary in people’s minds. Like “race,” they are not realities in the natural world, and quite simply do not exist anywhere outside of people’s minds.

Is there “racism” in America today? Yes, of course. It is entrenched deep within the minds of many human beings. That “race” is a construct that exists only in some people’s minds, does not reduce the terrible damage that racism does. And that is true, even when racism becomes more institutionalized in our society, and racists believe themselves more sophisticated than old Bull Connor.

Perhaps one advantage of using the model of tribalism is that it might allow us the opportunity to move more people beyond accepting the group psychosis that Rubin spoke of. It might allow people of good will the chance to identify the causes of some of the inequalities that exist in the United States today, when we face problems so profound -- such as climate change -- that we no longer have the luxury of remaining invested in, or victims of, racism ….or any of the other “-isms” that are a product of diseased thinking.

H2O Man

July 20, 2014

Breath of Dissent

“No American, young or old, must ever be denied the right to dissent. No minority must be muzzled. Opinion and protest are the life breath of democracy -- even when it blows heavy.

“But I urge you never to dissent merely because someone asks you to, or because someone else does. Please know why you protest. Know what it is you dissent from. And always try, when you do disagree, to offer a choice to the course that you disapprove. For dissent and protest must be the recourse of men who, in challenging the existing order, reason their way to a better order.”
-- President Lyndon B. Johnson; June 7, 1966.

This is my favorite LBJ quote. What a curious specimen of humanity he was! A capable legislator. A passionate advocate for Civil Rights. Yet his policies on Vietnam continue to eclipse the many positives of his presidency. History correctly identifies him as the nation’s “leader” in 1968, the most revolutionary year of the century.

In my mind, I tend to associate this quote with an event that took place ten days later, late at night in a Paterson, NJ, bar. My good friend Rubin ”Hurricane” Carter would be wrongly convicted of that vicious triple-murder, and spend the next twenty years behind bars.

I remember Rubin telling me that “minds that have very little to compare, have very little understanding.” And, for whatever reason, I think of that quote -- along with the LBJ quote -- when I read some of the on-going arguments about President Obama on DU:GD. But that’s just me.

H2O Man

July 19, 2014

Moby Dick

“This world and yonder world are incessantly giving birth;
Every cause is a mother, its effect the child.
When the effect is born, it too becomes a cause
And gives birth to wonderous effects.
These causes are generation on generation, but it needs
A very well lighted eye to see the links in their chain.”
-- Jalal-ad-din Rumi (Persian Sufi poet)

Yesterday, I engaged in what might politely be termed a “debate” on the internet site known as “Face Book,” against a half-dozen gentlemen who were attempting to place blame on President Obama for two tragic crises. I normally do not engage in such nonsense, but for some reason I found their rants particularly toxic. Let me explain, briefly, how I was exposed to their “opinions.”

Decades ago, as a college student, I had a close group of friends, all of whom were fairly like-minded liberals and progressives. Along with social-political activism, our group of young men and women would engage in recreational activities, such as basketball and partying. One friend would morph into a rather rigid thinking, right-wing minister. Several of our friends attribute this to the massive quantities of LSD that he had ingested in those semesters of old (I am unwilling to rule out his missing a free-throw in a hotly contested game).

As ancient citizens, we all communicate on FB, to plan reunions and the like. Our days of listening to Revolution 9 backwards, and staying up until dawn while dancing with wild abdomen are past, yet we still enjoy talking about politics. Besides our alumni group, most of us are “friends” on that internet site. And so I was not surprised to read a series of baseless rants from the minister of madness.

My old friend generally avoids debating things political with me, for a reason similar to why PeeWee Herman wouldn’t start a fight with Mike Tyson. On biblical debates, I respect his right to his own misinterpretations and misperceptions. But yesterday’s scat -- blaming Barack Obama for the violence in Palestine and the Ukraine -- annoyed me.

Since I do not like annoying things, I opted to dissect his asinine claims (agreeing only that President Obama is “no Ronald Reagan”). Immediately, his followers flocked to his defense. I enjoyed exposing several of the falsehoods they were investing their beliefs in. They got upset when I noted that they were worshipping at the alter of Dick Cheney. Oh, well.

But that isn’t why I’m writing this. Not really.

The events in Palestine and Ukraine can only be understood properly, when placed within the context of the above Rumi quote. President Obama can only be considered to be “the cause” in the most poisoned of minds. Indeed, when one places the presidency in the Rumi context, in order to appreciate what “good” and/or “bad” options that President Obama has, to influence the potential outcomes of the current crises, it seems evident that his ability to exercise much in the way of wholesome control is limited.

Last week, I had suggested that James Carroll’s “House of War” is a beneficial read for those seeking to make sense of current events global. The former Jesuit’s history of the Pentagon would be beyond my friend’s understanding at this point. Yet, even those as intellectually limited as myself should read it -- including reading it again, for those of us who bought it when published some eight years ago.

Although Carroll doesn’t quote Rumi, his book documents the reality of cause and effect over the years. He writes in terms of Karl Marx’s “The traditions of all dead generations weigh like a nightmare on the minds of the living,” and adds the impact of the talented politicians who sought to make meaningful change; those, he notes, experience Marcel Proust’s frustration -- “I try to correct it, but I cannot root it out” (In Search of Lost Time).

Carroll identifies President Kennedy as unique in his eventual understanding of the momentum of history -- yet JFK would experience the very fate that other enlightened active thinkers would (Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy included).

What, if any, actions can a President of the United States take in 2014 to de-escalate the horrors that are taking place around the earth? How can an individual citizen keep from being carried away by the momentum of ignorance, paranoia, fear, and hatred that demands violent action in today’s world? Can any human being opposing the negative forces of humanity keep from being Ahab, addicted to a fruitless search for Moby Dick (the personification of the evil of humanity)?

We are in a strange and dangerous time in human history. I believe that we must become more, in order to do more. Our tactics must, of course, be nonviolent -- in the manner of Gandhi and King -- and surely must be as confrontational in opposition to the beast that threatens our being today. But I am not sure that this generation has the strength and discipline necessary to conduct a meaningful campaign.

July 17, 2014

2016 Questions

Who do you think will be the GOP nominee in 2016? Jeb Bush? Rand Paul? Chris Christie? Or someone else?

Why? Will this candidate unite their party, or divide it?

Do you think the rabid-right wing will determine the republican candidate? Or the party elders, who tend to work behind-the-scenes? Or, is it possible that the average registered republican will determine their party's primary outcome?

This is all speculation, of course. There is no "right" or "wrong" answer.

I note that Chris Matthews believes Rand Paul will be the republican nominee. Although I like Mr. Matthews, his record of predicting these things kind of reminds me of, back in the late '50s up to the 1970s, ex-champion Joe Louis was almost always wrong in predicting the outcome of heavyweight title bouts. I had been think Paul was in the best position among republicans, until I heard that Mr. Matthews said he would win the nomination.

Thank you for your opinion.
H2O Man

July 12, 2014

Reagan vs Maryknoll

“The story of sanctuary is hardly remembered and is therefore a missing piece of the Reagan puzzle.” -- James Carroll; House of War

Thirty years ago, the United States was faced with the question of what to do with hundreds of thousands of refugees from Central America. These people were fleeing their war-torn nations: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. It was part of an important era in the struggle for human rights, and involved significant changes in the manner in which “middle America” viewed the government.

For many decades, US policy towards Central America was shameful. US corporations such as United Fruit and Domino Sugar (and multinationals such as Gulf & Western) had installed oligarchs to insure that those nations’ natural resources were accessible. This created a huge economic imbalance between the 1% and the 99% in those countries, not unlike the direction our society is heading in today.

When the people rebelled, the oligarchs responded with horrible violence. If the “threat” continued, the US military was sent in. A pattern was set: anyone who opposed the oligarchs was called a “communist,” which justified the swift and repeated use of US military force.

In the mid-1970s, two dynamics changed: in Central America, the synergy of Native thought and Catholic practice resulted in “liberation theology”; and in the USA, the experience of the Vietnam war had opened the public’s mind to the reality that many of the civil wars around the globe had more to do with nationalism, than a centralized communist threat.

In 1979, a group known as the Sandinistas overthrew Somoza in Nicaragua. The eight-member leadership council included one Marxist, three Catholic priests, and four left-wing nationalists. President Carter, who was preoccupied with other domestic and international events, did not seem concerned by the Sandinistas coming to power.

However, in 1980, a failed, B-grade actor was elected president, and Ronald Reagan suffered from extremely concrete, paranoid thinking. He viewed Nicaragua as a “second Cuba” in the Western Hemisphere, and was intent upon destroying the red menace. Thus, US advisors and “contractors” began “assisting” the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras -- and the “Contras” in Nicaragua -- in warfare against those seeking liberation.

On March 23, 1980, archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador pleaded with the soldiers to refuse to kill citizens, and to end the repression in their nation. The next day, he was shot dead while saying mass. During his funeral, the military again attacked, killing 40 people. However, two US bishops were among the crowd, and when they returned home, they began addressing the US-backed violence.

Later that year, four American women (three nuns and a lay person) were kidnapped, raped, and murdered by the same group of thugs who murdered Romero. Their leader had been trained in the School of the Americas at Fort Benning. Reagan’s UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick told Congress that the women were “not real nuns.”

However, the Speaker of the House knew better. Tip O’Neill’s aunt was a Maryknoll nun, which taught and practiced liberation theology. He was also influenced by the Jesuits from Boston College. O’Neill, although he had a good personal relationship with Reagan, knew that the president lacked the intellectual ability to view Central America in anything but the starkest black-and-white context. And so he began lobbying others in the legislative branch to handcuff the Reagan administration’s drive to involve the US military in a regional conflict.

Another powerful force that was organizing in the US was the Democratic Left. In 1980, for example, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador was formed. Headquartered in Washington, DC, CISPES had chapters across the country. (CISPES still exists today: http://www.cispes.org/ )

The Reagan administration would target American citizens belonging to, or supportive of, CISPES. I could tell some stories. However, the Democratic Left had matured over the years, and was able to coordinate efforts with both liberal church groups, and several members of Congress. Perhaps the most significant focus, in my opinion, as it relates to today, would be the pressure to have refugees from the Central American countries to be recognized for exactly what they were.

The Reagan administration fought this tooth-and-nail. If these human beings were given political refugee status, it would put attention on the administration’s Central American war policies. Thus, the Reaganoids insisted upon labeling them “illegal aliens,” and attempting to deport them.

Churches across the nation would provide sanctuary to the refugees -- openly violating the law. Transporting the refugees could be risky, and hence much of this was done by members of the Democratic Left who had backgrounds with the “underground.” It was absolutely the modern version of the “Underground Railroad” from the pre-Civil War era. And there were several thousand depots across America.

Eventually, because of Tip O’Neill and others in Congress, the Boland Amendment was passed. This put the Reagan war effort in check, legally speaking. However, as we know, the Gipper and crew created a pipeline, which included selling weapons to Iran; funding the Contras; and, of course, dumping tons of cocaine onto the streets of American cities, primarily in minority neighborhoods.

The rule of law worked, to an extent, and ended much of the US government’s direct involvement in such schemes ….at least briefly. Reagan clearly faced impeachment, and VP Bush really should have faced criminal prosecution. It never got to that point, but that is a long story in and of itself. “Private” interests in the US would continue the drug and weapons trade -- it wasn’t high school and college students flying cocaine into the country. And the combination of gangs and military in Central America were their partners, at least for a time.

Between 1982 and ‘84, over half a million refugees from Central America fled to the USA. Our nation was not “harmed” by them. Quite the opposite, they added to the fabric of our culture. It was the Reagan-Bush forces that posed a threat to America.

I believe that the Sanctuary Movement of the early 1980s provides us with an important model. It illustrates the root causes of the crisis the refugees face today. And it provides us with lessons on how we, as human beings, need to organize and respond.

In closing, I want to stress one point: the citizens who struggled for social justice thirty years ago were not “supermen and women.” They were ordinary people, no different than you and I. And if “they” could do it then, we can do it now.

H2O Man

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