Friday, July 21, 2017

Jody was a Draft Dodger

When I was in basic training in 1972, we sang when we marched. We sang about the terrible food, the training, about killing the enemy, but most of all we sang about Jody.

Jody was the mythical Son of a Bitch back home who was screwing our girlfriends, driving our cars, eat our food, emptying our meager bank accounts and, in the worst version, alienating the affection of our dogs!

The current Army no longer sings about Jody. I wrote about that after attending a full-time Army school four years ago. The songs would embarrass eunuchs now they are so thoroughly emasculated. The story on the New York Times "At War" blog is here.

Recently I was explaining Jody to a non-military friend. I said, "Jody was a Draft Dodger. When I was in basic during the Vietnam War, we knew Jody got a deferment."

And now, if those sergeants are still alive, they are in their 70s and voted for Trump. Who ever thought you could sell those Vietnam War veterans a Chicken Hawk.

I would not have believed it then. I still have a hard time believing it now.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Jerusalem: The Youngest 5,000-Year-Old City I Ever Visited

Jerusalem: 5,000 years old and the youngest city I visited in my 20-country tour. When I flew to Israel after a month in mostly Eastern Europe, I expected Jerusalem to be the spiritual pinnacle of my trip. It was quite the opposite.  Jerusalem is youthful, growing, vibrantly alive. Surrounding places thousands of years old are new apartments, stores, hotels, clubs, couples in love, groups having fun, people arguing, people haggling, and old people here and there like rocks in a stream bed with the wild current of life swirling past.

In the Old City are warrens of streets of stone, closed to traffic, alive with people: restaurants, shops, stores, clubs, every manner of business line tiny streets and the streets that don’t allow cars.  The streets are also filled with young people.  Soldiers are everywhere and they are young, the proper age of soldiers. Young men and women with automatic rifles laugh in cafes, read on buses, stare at their phones at tram stops and takes selfies in cafes. The soldiers you see everywhere look like soldiers should: young, strong, and tough.

In cafes and restaurants, groups of young people fill the tables. They also wait on the tables and cook the food. When I bought bread or coffee or a sandwich, it was a young person who handed me my order. The hotels I stayed at had people in their 20s on the desk.

By contrast in Belgrade a lovely cobblestone street ascends toward the top of the main hill in the city. Along that street is restaurant after restaurant with live music and lovely gardens. The waiters, the musicians, the diners are mostly older people. The scene is beautiful on a summer night, but very different from Jerusalem. Belgrade draws the best people who want to stay in Serbia, including many young people. But the city, like so many in Europe, is old and getting older. Jerusalem, like New York, Paris, London, Beijing, and other world cities draws young people from everywhere.

Jerusalem also draws tourists from everywhere. Retirees from America, across Europe and Asia flock to the Old City. But on the steep streets of Jerusalem, the tourists walk from stand to stand in the market or shop to shop then stop to catch their breath. Young people bump past and stride up and down. When the vendors in the open-air market shout, young people shout back.

Even the Orthodox are young. In America, the enclaves of Orthodox Judaism are home to an aging population. In New York City and in my hometown of Lancaster where there is an Orthodox Shul, the strictly observant Jews are older. Outside my hotel on a closed street in Old City Jerusalem, one of the outside tables at the closest pizza place had a table with a dozen young Orthodox men staining their white shirts with sizzling pepperoni pizzas--and laughing at each other when they did it.

Many people told me Tel Aviv is a young city, more vibrant, more secular. I can't say because I never left Jerusalem and so did not see the rest of the country. But the youth vibe of Jerusalem is my most lasting impression of a very ancient city.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Holocaust Deportation Memorial in Paris

At the east end of Il de Notre Dame in the center of Paris is a memorial to the 200,000 people deported from France to death camps by the Nazis during World War II.  A park covers most of the east end of the island. At the very east end it narrows to a point. The memorial is below the surface of the island pointing in the direction of the deportation: east to Auschwitz and other death factories.

Visitors walk down stairs to an open space with sheer walls, then enter chambers with memorials to the dead. The chamber that points east is long and opens to the Seine through a Barred window. I took a boat ride later in the day and looked in from the outside instead of out from the inside. Either way telescopes the view and focused my mind on the point of the memorial: that two hundred thousand people were ripped from the the land the loved by a racist pig Hitler. 

We should never tolerate a racist in a position of power in our country.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

Even though I knew the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin would confront me with some of the feeling of people disappearing, the reality was eerie. I sat at the southeast corner and looked at the square block of randomly shaped stone in front of me. Between the uneven stones were uneven pathways. The pathways were sometimes a few feet lower than the stones they passed between, sometimes they were twenty feet lower.
As people walk through the narrow paths between the stones, they appear, disappear, reappear and disappear again. Heads pop up 50 feet away then they are gone. I did not know the people in front of me, they just appeared and disappeared. Kids seldom showed up. So I would see a man walking and then see two little heads for a moment. Then those heads would disappear. Then the father would disappear.

Here is a video that will let you see what I saw.

Friday, July 14, 2017

A Moving Experience Thanks to Jerusalem's Arab Quarter

The trip to Jerusalem was my first in a desert since leaving Iraq in 2010. Four days after I arrived in Iraq, the combination of low humidity and exercising in 120-degree heat left me terribly constipated.  The cure was Metamucil every day for the rest of my time in Iraq.

I arrived in Jerusalem the morning of Wednesday, July 5. On Friday, I rode downhill from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. It was nearly 25 miles of downhill, 16 miles steeply downhill. Then in 95-degree heat, I turned around and rode back up the hill--for more than three hours into a 20mph headwind.  I drank all I could, but when I returned after dark I was dehydrated.  And it was Sabbath. All Jewish-owned businesses were shut down. So I walked to an Arab-owned store and bought Gatorade.

But it was too late.

On the Sabbath morning in I woke up in the same state I was eight years before in Iraq: badly constipated in the way only the desert can do to me. 

I am unable to move, so to speak......and it's Sabbath so all the Jewish businesses are closed. Google maps said a pharmacy was open in the Arab district a mile away. After an uncomfortable walk,  I had to ask the young Arab woman behind the counter for Metamucil.




Then I held my stomach and bent forward. 

"FLEET!" she said loudly with a smile. 

The old Arab woman next to counter smiled knowingly. The clerk sped to the back. When she returned I said , "Two." She smirked. She got another. Usually they ask about shopping bags for purchases here and I don't take them. She put my purchase straight into an opaque bag. I thanked her.

On the way back I stopped at a second pharmacy. The young clerk did not recognize the word Metamucil, but the older pharmacist knew "FIBER!" 

Also loud. Also funny for everyone else. 

Even funnier was that he reached straight for the Israeli brand of fiber. I was clearly an American Jew since I knew no Hebrew and was shopping on the Sabbath.

In an hour I was cured and rode 40 miles up and down a different hill after drinking a lot of water before, during and after the trip. 

I could not even add up all the ironies of having this problem while I was part of the army that invaded an Arab country, then going to Arab pharmacies for the cure when eight years later I am in Israel. 

There are so many jokes I thought of about my condition, I would be wiped out if I made them.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Visiting German Historic Sites with Two Coptic Christians from Cairo

The Altar at the Cathedral in Worms where Martin Luther 
was tried for heresy nearly 500 years ago.

When Cliff and I visited the first Concentration Camp, the Cathedral at Worms and the Jewish Cemetery, a young couple from Cairo joined us. Mariam and Sameh are Coptic Christians. Sameh is a gastric surgeon. Mariam is pursuing a Ph.D in math education. They were staying in a guest house at Canaan also. Mariam had visited Canaan several times before, but this was Sameh's first visit.
The Cathedral in Worms.

On the long drive to Worms Mariam told us about their life in Cairo, their Church community and the work they do. They love their home and their community, but the longer they talked the more thankful I was to hear that they have skills that transfer well to other cultures, up-to-date passports and no kids.  They said things that eerily reminded me of things I read about victims of the Holocaust and ethnic cleansing who could not quite believe the worst could happen to them, and that their neighbors could be complicit.

After a while I asked, "Do you worry about living under an Islamic dictator in a country that is home to the Muslim Brotherhood?" Mariam said she tried to put the danger out of her mind and continue her work and studies, but that the recent bombing of a Church not far from theirs she could not ignore. A very close friend lost her mother in the blast and many friends.

As we walked around the city near the cathedral, Sameh told me about how he came to specialize in gastric surgery. Mariam was quite animated about her future work teaching math. I was happy to hear they saw the future so brightly, but I could not shake the foreboding I felt thinking about their future in Egypt.

They left Canaan two days later, the morning Cliff and Dmitri and I went to visit the former East-West German border in Fulda. At one point I was telling Cliff and Dmitri about my admiration for Ariel Sharon as a tank commander in the '73 Arab-Israeli War. Cliff said, "It's a good thing we didn't come here with Mariam and Sameh. They have a different view of that war than you do." Of course, he was right. They are Egyptians. They are real patriots, working to make their country better, so they think the '73 War was a tragedy in the same way I see it as a great victory.

In "Survival in Auschwitz" Primo Levi describes an inmate who earned the Iron Cross for gallantry under fire in World War I, but was killed in Auschwitz. He was a patriot. I so hope I am wrong and Mariam and Sameh have a wonderful life in the city they love. In a way, I will be like the families of soldiers back home. Families who saw a bombing in Mosul on the news were worried their soldier was injured, even if the soldier they love was hundreds of miles away. When terror against Coptic Christians is in the news, I will be thinking of Sameh and Mariam.

The First Nazi Concentration Camp and the Oldest Jewish Cemetery in Europe

The very ordinary look of mass murder. This small industrial building in 
Hesse was the very first site of slaughter in the Nazi regime, in operation the month after Hitler took power.

In the state of Hesse, I visited the first concentration camp of the new Nazi regime. It was a pair of industrial buildings near a railroad track in a small town. The state of Hesse authorized the site in anticipation of Hitler's need for prison facilities for enemies of the Reich.

Hitler took power in January and the next month Hesse provided the first Concentration Camp. Soon it was a jail for communists, journalists and other enemies of the regime, and, of course, Jews.
"One People, One Nation, One Leader" 

But the facility is an illustration of how authoritarian regimes commit greater and greater outrages--those who want to impress the leader find ways to anticipate his needs. Eight years later, the SS would industrialize the transport and murder of Jews in Auschwitz and other camps. The subordinates, anticipating the Hitler's desires, found a way to kill on a much greater scale than the Nazi leadership thought possible.
The little camp in the state of Hesse was the site of the torture and death of small numbers relative to Auschwitz, but it anticipated Hitler's desire to imprison and kill his enemies out of sight of the population. In that, this facility is sadly significant.

Later in the same day, we visited Worms where Luther was put on trial for heresy nearly five centuries ago.  Not far from the great cathedral is a small Jewish cemetery, the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe, nearly one thousand years old.  Berlin ordered the cemetery destroyed, but the Mayor of Worms resisted. He did not openly defy Berlin, but as one bureaucrat to another, he continually was faced with other priorities. He said he would comply when questioned, but then another emergency would present itself. In a country that was being bombed and then faced Soviet invasion, there was always an emergency and the cemetery still stands today.

The Mayor, instead of anticipating the demands of the tyrant, stood for civilization against barbarism.  Tyrants are always barbarians, whether they wear suits or animal skins. And even when they have the pretense of supporting civilization, the barbarism becomes the center of what they do. Every tyrant is self-seeking scum who will eventually destroy his own nation through greed and arrogance.

Admiration of other dictators and strong men is an infallible sign that the leader wants to be a tyrant even if he has not yet shown his hand.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Visiting Point Alpha East-West Border Memorial in Fulda

In October 1976, the 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, left Fort Carson, Colorado, for Wiesbaden, West Germany. Within 48 hours of landing in Wiesbaden, the 4,000 soldiers of Brigade 76 had covered the nearly 100 miles from Wiesbaden to Fulda on the East-West Border. We road marched along the fence in one of the many shows of force that happened along the East-West divide.

I visited the Point Alpha Memorial on the former border at Fulda with one of my roommates from my Cold War assignment to Wiesbaden. Cliff Almes, now Bruder Timotheus, a Canaan Franciscan in Darmstadt, Germany, since his discharge in 1979. A guest at Canaan, Dmitri, also joined us. He was not a soldier, but his life was more strongly shaped by the Cold War than Cliff or me.
Cliff and Dmitri in front of the fabled fence.

Some of the fence and towers are preserved, but the effect is so different as a visitor surrounded by bored high school kids than when I was looking across the border at Soviet tanks from the turret of my own M60A1 tank.
An M60A3 Patton tank on display at Point Alpha. 
Most of my time in armor I was in an M60A1. 

As Cliff and Dmitri and I walked along the border, I told them about how tanks hide, and how many ways tanks are vulnerable on rolling terrain with ditches and sharp hills.

The Memorial itself has many artifacts of the Cold War border.

Posters, weapons, and pictures of protests in Communist controlled countries across Easter Europe during the Soviet era.

Before I visited Point Alpha, I visited several countries behind the Iron Curtain. Walking the hills near the former border and the halls of the museum area, it was hard to imagine how real the struggle between east and west seemed in the 70s and how different the world is now.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Cliff Has More Than 200 years of Connections to American and German Military History

Cliff and Dmitri during our visit to Point Alpha.
I wrote about Dmitri here.

During the last week in June, I stayed in the Guest House at the Land of Canaan. My friend Cliff Almes, now Bruder Timotheus, is a Canaan Franciscan Brother at Canaan in Darmstadt.  In the late 70s Cliff and I were roommates in the barracks at Lindsey Air Station. He put away his U.S. military uniform and donned the uniform of the Franciscan community after leaving the military almost 40 years ago.

Darmstadt is in the state of Hesse in central Germany. During my stay at Canaan, I found out Cliff has more connections to Darmstadt and Germany than I would have imagined.

First, Cliff's great-great......grandfather was a soldier from Lower Saxony who became a mercenary for the British during the American Revolution. He was what Americans call a Hessian.  After the war ended, the very elder Almes decided to stay in America.  When Cliff's brother came to visit Cliff and look into the family history, he found men with the name Almes who died in World War II.

Immigration was salvation for the Almes family, as with so many others.
Fast forward to World War II and the connections of Cliff's family to the Canaan and Darmstadt are as strange as they are close. On September 11, 1944, the British made a night raid on the city center of Darmstadt. It was not a strategic raid, it was a terror raid, and it was the dress rehersal for the fire bombing of Dresden five months later.
On that the British bombed the residential center of Darmstadt in an asterisk pattern, intersecting lines that crossed in the middle. First the British dropped high explosive bombs to blow the roofs off the houses, then they dropped firebombs into the houses to start a firestorm. The center of Darmstadt was completely destroyed.

But just outside the center of the city center was the Technical Institute. This Institute was the center of research for the missile V-2 missile program sending rockets to attack England.  The firebombing raid missed the institute. So a week later, the Americans sent a daylight precision bombing mission to destroy the institute. The American bombers hit their target. One of the American gunners flying that mission was a young man named Almes who would have a son named Cliff in 1956.

The mission was successful. Cliff believes that one of the young women who was a student at the Institute was almost killed. That same young woman would later join the Canaan ministry as a Sister of Mary. Canaan began as a sisterhood in 1947. The student almost killed by the raid in which Cliff's father was a crewman on one of the bombers, would later work together with Cliff in ministry at Canaan. The Land of Canaan itself is located just outside Darmstadt, just three miles away from the city center firebombed to such devastating effect.

When I was stationed in Germany, Darmstadt had a huge American military community. Cliff reminded me that I drove him from Wiesbaden to Darmstadt to join the new Novices at Canaan on my birthday, May 2, 1979. For several months after that I went to the Darmstadt military community once a week, usually on Wednesdays. Many of those Wednesdays, I had a chance to eat with Cliff and the other Novices at Canaan.