Tuesday, May 22, 2012

stayin' alive

In Chicago on Sunday, veterans of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were joined by thousands as they marched and attempted to return their war medals to NATO leaders. One of the veterans' hopes seemed to be to educate a younger generation about the chasm between the hoorah's of what passes for patriotism and the realities that those hoorah's create.

In April 1971, Vietnam war veterans were shown on television throwing away their medals in Washington. Same stuff, different day. Most of the protesters in Chicago were probably too young to remember Vietnam as anything other than an 11th-grade history quiz and most of the politicians who promulgated the latest wars are no doubt exercising their God-given right to selective amnesia under the moth-eaten banner of patriotism or protecting the country or some other sloppy-but-compelling camouflage.

The rule now as the rule then is the same: Follow the money. Set aside the distaste or approbation ... just follow the money.

In 1917, the Mexican constitution turned up the heat on Roman Catholics in an attempt, among other things, to tap into the wealth (represented by land and allegiance) the church possessed.

The 1917 Constitution outlawed teaching by the Church, gave control over Church matters to the state, put all Church property at the disposal of the state, outlawed religious orders, outlawed foreign born priests, gave states the power to limit or eliminate priests in their territory, deprived priests of the right to vote or hold office, prohibited Catholic organizations which advocated public policy, prohibited religious publications from commenting on public policy, prohibited clergy from religious celebrations and from wearing clerical garb outside of a church and deprived citizens of the right to a trial for violations of these provisions.

Cristeros lynched
This clamp-down helped to inspire the "Cristero War" from 1926 to 1929. A little like the Chicago protesters who may have had no familiarity with their Vietnam forbears, I had never heard of this war until last night when there was a TV discussion about an upcoming movie on the topic. A war I had never heard of ... ever ... and yet people died in their thousands as ordinary Mexicans resisted the crackdown on their faith. 

Initially, the U.S. sided with the Mexican government in the Cristero War, going so far as to send American planes to attack the guerrillas. But as time passed and the 'insurgents' refused to give up, the U.S. involved itself in peace talks. Stability was in the U.S. interest, not least because of the oil Mexico might provide.

That was then and this is now.

Oil in Mexico. Oil in Iraq. Siding with dictatorial policies until it becomes no longer tenable because the rag-tags refuse to knuckle under ... until it becomes impossible to simply suppress little men in sandals and shorts (Vietnam), tribesmen in the hills (Afghanistan) or campesinos with lackluster wardrobes (Mexico). And it is possible with more than a cursory investigation, to find ringing reasons to stand for one position or the other. Was there ever a cause so good that it did not partake in truly vile depredations? Really, really vile ... the U.S. government, the Mexican government, the protesters and their fallout activities, the Roman Catholic Church, the fighters in the hills ... speaking of the relative horrors of one vileness or another is a love potion for more villainy, whether by saints or sinners. I wouldn't advocate a moral relativism that sees things from a blase and self-serving distance. But I would advocate some willingness to investigate ... to take a look and consider what Abraham Lincoln called the "better angels of our nature."

Life is unstintingly generous. It gives freely to one and all. Before the words "free" or "love" or "hate" or "God" or "enlightenment" passes the lips, life is already there ... living. It is the same for pontiff or peon, maple leaf or dandelion.

Man is more grudging in his life. "Grudging" means that man is more often searching for "something else." Life does not seek something else. Life is alive. "Something else" -- no matter how virtuous or heinous -- is dead.

It is rare to meet with a man or woman who accords with life ... who is simply alive. And even when that rare event seems to present itself, it is bound to forecast a disappointment or disaster.

But just because it is impossible to meet with a man or woman who accords with life does not mean that individuals cannot, themselves, be alive. What the hell else could they possibly be? Grudging or not, they are already alive because that is the nature of life.

In the grudging search for "something else," I think it is worth the price of admission to seek out that which is not "something else," which is freely, gaily and unstintingly alive. This is not a responsibility that anyone can foist off on anyone else. Why? Because anyone else is just another version of "something else" and "something else" is far too narrow for the life anyone actually leads.

Before the diatribes, before the laughter, before the tears, before the money and holiness, before this grudging existence ....

How about them apples?

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