A few decades had gone by, and still the war went on.  Nobody in the country even remembered who Osama bin Laden had been, although some had a vague memory of a terrorist getting killed at a televised White House dinner.

And yet, every Friday afternoon the same thing continued in my hometown–the old hippies came out to protest.  The real 1960s hippies had died out by then, but these folks proudly carried on the tradition.  They slouched down Main Street with signs proclaiming hilarious things such as “Troops Out Of Iraq!” and “No Money For Israel!” and “Funding For Infrastructure!”  They circled the downtown blocks, screaming at a President who couldn’t hear them, and who wasn’t listening anyway.

I could hear them, though, every week when I left the office.  The company I worked for manufactured toy drones, and I was always worn out after a long day of customers with malfunctioning drones which crashed into trees or attacked their children.  Friday was when I would treat myself — fries and a beer at my favorite downtown pub.  Even as I chewed, the hippie chants echoed in my direction.  Rain or shine, they were there.  And she was there.

I did my best to keep my eyes on my plate and avoid eye contact as she went past the glass. But on that particular day, much to my dismay, she came in to talk to me.

“Hey, Mom.”  I managed to fake a weak smile.  “I’m very tired right now, so…”

“Can’t I even say hi to you anymore?”

“Not if it turns into another crazy rant…”

“It’s not crazy.  It’s not crazy to tell you that your job is bad for you.  You’re wasting your life. You hate those stupid toys…”

“Oh, sure.  And you’re not wasting your time doing this?”

“I’m doing it for my country!”

“Look, Mom.  Nobody cares.  Your country isn’t paying attention.  This is my one reward for my shitty week–could you please leave me alone?”

“Okay.  Have a good dinner.”  I felt her move away and walk out behind me, but didn’t look back.

But once I’d finished my beer, my anger faded away.  Alcohol made me sentimental.  So what if she wanted to walk around and yell with her anti-war sign, or tell me about all the conspiracy theories she’d read on the Internet?  She was retired, and retired people got to spend their time doing whatever silly stuff they felt like doing.  Hell, maybe I’d join her at the rally.  I wouldn’t hold any signs, of course–I didn’t want any embarrassing pictures of me online–but I could applaud the speeches and pretend to chant along a little.

I paid for my meal and went to the city square, where the marches ended every week in a sparse, hoarse-throated rally.  I must’ve taken too long, because the square was empty by the time I got there.  The cops were half-heartedly arresting one or two people.  The grey-bearded little man who liked to throw eggs at them was being led away.

No rally, no protest, no chance to chant.  No chance to make it up to Mom.  It was now drizzling miserably.

I heard indistinct shouting to my right.  It was the other protester who was there every week — the one with pictures of chopped up babies.

“You’ll burn in eternal Hell!”  he boomed at me through his bullhorn.

He eyed me with suspicion as I approached.  I handed him a twenty.  “For your church,” I said.  I didn’t tell him that I felt sad for him.

He glared at me, but he did pocket the twenty.  In return, he handed me one of his anti-abortion brochures.

As I walked away, he called after me:  “Remember, God doesn’t just want your money!  He wants your soul!”

I laughed.  How sweet of him to assume I had one.

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Some immigrants are luckier than others. We were embraced by complete strangers when we came to the States. “Welcome to America!” “God bless you!”

Then there is the Iraqi man in Texas who went outside to look at his first snowfall and was shot dead in front of his home. His welcome wagon was, shall we say, a little less festive.

What makes one person a target and not another? Was it simply that the color of his skin was darker than ours? Or were we lucky to be dealing with people slightly less crazy than the ones in Texas?

When we lived in Idaho, our neighbors pointed their many guns at everything else that moved–the squirrels, the birds–but not at us, at least as far as I can remember. Not that there was any love lost between us. They didn’t like us because we had an accent and spoke to each other in our native language. Actually, they were drug dealers, so they were paranoid and didn’t like anybody very much.

I was told when I came to America that I should fear the big cities with their muggings, but the scariest time I’ve experienced here has been the five years we spent in Boise. Still, we didn’t get shot. Since America is portrayed around the world as the country where people get shot, this was a big deal for us.

I guess this rambling post is to reflect on the randomness of fate. What decides which human beings live and die? Whether or not you look like the type of person who gets killed. And if you do, whether or not you are doing something “suspicious”. Whether or not you live somewhere where weapons get waved around in public, or a more civilized area like the one I currently inhabit, where the residents keep their weapons hidden in their homes. Whether or not the nutjob down the street finally reaches his tipping point. So many things can go wrong.

Some of us just happen to be lucky.

These days, the United States is frequently compared to the Roman empire. Usually the comparison is made by those warning about our demise, either because we’re militarily overstretched or too accepting of homosexuality as a part of our culture.

But as tempting as it is to imagine myself reclining on a luxurious feast couch and eating grapes–the truth is, we kind of suck at being an empire.

Take Iraq. It’s pretty obvious that it’s become a colony of ours. We can make noises about leaving, but let’s face it, we’re over there to stay. Well, the Romans were at least smart enough to claim taxes from the nations they conquered. We seem to be doing the opposite–I’ve been paying from my hard-earned money to build stuff in Iraq. Why? Our own infrastructure could certainly use the help.

What I’m saying is, let’s be honest about what we’re doing. Enough with the bullcrap about being a democratic society trying to bring our democratic ideas to Iraq. Does anybody really believe that Americans believe in that cause? So if I’m forced to be the evil invader, I should be accepting some kind of tribute right now from those we’ve conquered. I should be getting loot and booty from the place we’ve taken over. That’s how this sort of thing works. And if that’s not happening, then what the hell are we doing?

Ah, but of course, there are select people in my country who did, in fact, get to loot Iraq’s resources. The companies who walked away with huge profits from our overseas adventure. So perhaps, we are more talented at being an empire than I thought, and perhaps, I’m getting a painful lesson in what it’s like to be one of the little people in an empire–one of the little people who helps fund our military exploits, but doesn’t get to share in any of the spoils. Not even through lower gas prices. Okay, I get it.

So then, could we at least throw some good decadent parties?

What troubled times we live in. Threats and dangers coming at us from every direction, and we seem to be bumbling about in response. Where is that leader, strong and decisive enough to handle Vladimir Putin, the Israel conflict, the disaster in Iraq, immigrant kids and gang violence?

How about Darth Vader?

According to a poll on the FiveThirtyEight website, Americans prefer Darth Vader to any of the potential 2016 presidential candidates. I can see the appeal. Darth could never be accused of being too diplomatic. He likes to resolve problems by blowing stuff up, and at this point many of us may be frustrated enough with the world to want to blow it up too. So what if we end up serving the Dark Side in the process? Do we care?

Well, I hope we do, and that this is just a momentary twitch of stress and bad news overload. If we take these poll results at face value, then the person who should win in 2016 is Dick Cheney. I gotta think that by then our tempers will cool and a more reasonable candidate will get elected.

Part deux, in which Republicans continue to long for the advances of a strong, manly leader, so much so that they fall head over heels for an ex-KGB man.  Here I thought that they were supposed to be anti-Communist.  I should have known that they would always choose the Commie over the black guy in the White House.

I just wanted to take a moment to remind the conservatives who are waxing nostalgic over George W. Bush’s unwavering foreign policy (At least Bush went to the United Nations!  Wait…I thought conservatives hated the United Nations?) and who are expressing disdain over Obama’s perceived weakness–I would like to remind them that most of the world, including many Americans, is still recovering from the hangover caused by W’s “I’m the decider” leadership.  This is one of the things making the Syria situation so complicated.  When the British parliament voted against supporting American military involvement in the region, the fiery speeches given mostly came down to one question:  “Remember Iraq and Afghanistan?”  If anything, Obama was criticized for wanting to rush into action, not for uncertainty.  A survey of British voters shows that 59% of them are feeling cautious because of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  And of course, surveys also show that the American public is very opposed to getting involved in Syria, deeply war-weary because of our two long military entanglements.  Not that it’s a bad thing if Americans have become a bit more skeptical about war.

The point is, it will take time for all of us to heal from W’s decisions…and in the meantime, the Republicans would like to see even more of the leadership style which got us in trouble in the first place.  I’m glad they’re not in charge of this situation, otherwise we might be fighting the entire world by now.  After all, anything less than that just wouldn’t be manly enough.

Donald Rumsfeld was always good with the zingers, and now he’s back.  I just got done watching an interview with him on CNN.  Just as I was done picking my jaw up off the floor at the guy having the nerve to critique someone else’s *war-making decisions*, he made it drop again.  When the interviewer asked about the faulty intelligence leading to the Iraq war, Rumsfeld responded with “You know if intelligence were a fact, it would be called a fact, and not intelligence.”

Sounds like we’re back in “there are known knowns and unknown unknowns” territory.  Conservatives like to claim that they have the facts on their side, while liberals only have emotion.  Well, sure…easy to say that you have the facts on your side when you can interpret those facts so broadly and also include dubious “intelligence” in your arsenal.

 

We just got out of one.  I had breathed a sigh of relief that we would be able to start getting back on our feet.  And now, here comes another one.

Today I’m reading in several news sources that US General Martin Dempsey is in Israel to urge restraint, as Israel mulls a possible pre-emptive strike on Iran.  What happens if Israel gets embroiled in military conflict with Iran?  I doubt that we’re going to let our ally get beaten to a pulp.  As much as I disagree with Israel’s domestic policy sometimes, I do not see that as an option either.  So then it’s yet another potentially disastrous and draining war for us.  Just the thought of it makes me want to curl up in a fetal position under my desk.

Like most people, I’m no fan of Ahmadinejacket.  I was very excited when the Green Revolution in Iran was taking place, and even took part in a completely useless march through downtown Portland supporting it.  Because that’s our cure for everything in Portland—protest marches.  I love the idea that the people of Iran might be able to overthrow their tyrannical government.  I hate the idea that we may soon be bombing those same ambitious, idealistic people into oblivion.

Also, has everyone forgotten that we don’t have the money for another war?  Some of the Republicans calling the loudest for an attack on Iran are also the biggest budget cut proponents.  Ah, but wait, we have all these programs like Social Security and Medicare that need to get slashed anyway.  We’re getting too big for our britches in this country, expecting things like a dignified retirement.  We forget that we have to pay a price for maintaining the empire.

And then what about countries like China and Russia, who oppose an attack on Iran?  Are we headed for an all-out world war?  China is obviously a trading partner, so they have to tread down a very cautious path.  It’s doubtful they would want to take us on at this point.  But I fear what might happen when we become so weakened by a series of unending wars that other countries no longer respect us.  Please, let’s maintain our strength, not waste it.

If nothing else, this is another useful wake up call telling us that we need to stop being so dependent on oil, so dependent on it that we keep having to fight for it.  We have to look at options like alternative energy sources and public transit and bikes, before it’s too late.

In the meantime, I’ll be keeping my fingers and toes crossed that it’s not time for World War III yet.  I mean, I’m just getting started on this blog, for chrissakes!