Progressive Writers Bloc

After All, He Has Forgotten Pearl Harbor

Uncle Bill Warner

Growing up near the stockyards in Cleveland in the late 30's, I learned about life from the neighborhood kids and the radio. From the other kids, I quickly learned it was "Us" vs. "them." "Us" was white, English-speaking, 100% Americans. "Them" was a group of folks that did not live on our block, that talked funny, and were to be avoided. They were the niggers, the kikes, the chinks, the japs, the hunkies, the wops (or dagos), the spicks, the polocks, and the gyppos. You could not trust any of them. The American flag belonged to us, not those others.

Oh, there were a few good ones, of course, who made good "sidekicks" like Tonto, the Lone Ranger's "faithful Indian companion", Little Beaver, who served Red Ryder, or Kato, the Japanese lackey of the Green Hornet. The radio taught us that we were always going to be O.K. as long as we had fearless guys who looked just like us such as Jack Armstrong, the all-American Boy; Batman; or Captain Midnight to protect our way of life (which consisted of eating cabbage and Spam, catching diphtheria, and telling racist jokes.)

Of course there were the evil demons that our heroes were always struggling with, like Dr. Sivana, Ivan Shark, the Dragon Lady. Then we grew up, and the demons became Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini. Then it became Mao Tse-Tung, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Osama and Saddam, the evil personifications of "them."

During my four years in the Marines, I found those old childhood stereotypes were shared by my buddies. I even learned that the list from my youth needed expanding to include women (they were good for only one thing, and you know what that was). Even the Women in the Corps were referred to by the denigrating designation "BAMS" (broad-assed Marines). We learned to look down not only on "queers", but civilians and even the other services. We were the best. We were the Supermen. "Doggies," "Swabbies," and "Flyboys" were OK, but we would never have sided with any of them in inter-service bar fight. Hey, if you can look down at other services, you can look down on anyone!

We learned that Commies were evil (though we never knew what a "Commie" was) and that "Gooks" (coming from the real name of the country we called Korea) were fair targets when we landed in their country. Most of the time, there was not even a distinction between the "bad" gooks and the ones on our side. Who could tell the difference by looking? When in doubt, "Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out." When the war started, not one guy I knew could find Korea on a map, had ever even met a "gook" or his family, knew one word of Korean, or had ever bounced a Korean kid on his knee.

So, what is your feeling about Iraqis? Do we know any more about them than we, as kids, knew about all of the groups we looked down upon, but had never met? Have you ever even visited Iraq or had dinner with an Iraqi? Can you talk for 60 seconds on Iraqi history? Do you even speak one word of Kurdish the main language in Iraq , in case you didn't know)? Can you even find Iraq on a map? Have you ever bounced an Iraqi kid on your knee? Are you willing to support the killing of these people just because they are "them?" (and because they just happen to have the second largest supply of oil in the world)

We are spending 7.6 billion borrowed dollars a month on the Iraqis, which is bleeding this country dry. Over 2,100 of our sons and daughters have come home in flag-draped boxes. Estimates from 15,000 to 48,000 of them have been maimed and wounded, with countless others dealing with post-traumatic stress or facing the prospect of delayed symptoms of exposure to depleted uranium and other toxins. Isn't it time to ask ourselves why we spend a fortune playing the war game? Isn't it time to rethink the fear and greed which feed the war machine? Isn't it time to look at our fellow men on earth just say "No!"?

Continued war with the feared and hated "other" is not a worthy American trait. Our beligerance in the world is creating a new generation of terrorists. When will understanding, compassion, and respect become American values?

I was berated, when to took part in a sidewalk memorial for the 2,000th soldier killed in Iraq by a fist-shaking red-faced guy driving a Japanese truck made by the same company that made the planes that bombed us on December 7, 1941. I was struck by the irony. It is clear he had forgotten Pearl Harbor. That made me wonder: is there hope that this chap might similarly be able to someday look past the fears and hatreds inspired by 911 and begin to think of everyone in the world as "Us"?

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