Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Like smoke in an opium parlor, the word swirls in my mind ... thicker here, thinner there ... seeming in one moment to be within reach only to dissolve and become out of reach in the next ... the word "validation." I once read that the Chinese referred to smoking opium as "biting the clouds" and in some amorphous way, I too am biting the clouds of "validation:"

Surely its needs and meaning are as concrete and palpable as a cinder block, but the moment I reach out to touch and control it, it dissolves and I am left bereft ... deliciously bereft... flowing with the flow ... dozing ... floating... no longer responsible and relieved to shed the weight of responsibility, of trying, of living a decent life: Fuck it! -- Just float.

I guess because the Vietnam War ended forty years ago in this month, the television has taken up the cause of recollection. Lots of World War II history. And then, more specifically, last night there were two more segments of Vietnam on the Public Broadcast System: "Kent State: The Day the '60's Died" and "Last Days in Vietnam" played back to back. On Monday, "The Draft" formed an earlier leg on this tripod of memory.

Forty years later, Vietnam veterans, like any others, are often well and truly haunted by the memories of loss and bloodbath and soul-searing stuff that no other man or woman can imagine. But Vietnam was also the first war the United States lost. And Vietnam was one of the first wars in which there was no palpable or immediate threat. Its foundations formed a basis for the "terrorist" mentality and preemptive war-making that prevails today: If someone shoots at you, you are inclined to shoot back; if someone might shoot at you, where is the validation for shooting him/her first? Is the "collateral damage" a pill the 'freedom-loving' United States is willing to swallow? Afghanistan and Iraq among others suggest that the train has left the station: The United States is indeed an exceptional country, but the willingness to infer that exceptionalism is an acceptable course of action is ... well, the opium parlor's delights beckon.

I dislike being sucked back into times I lived through and yet there seems no escape, so last night I sucked on my pipe and floated, floated, floated....

On Monday, May 4, 1970, a peace protest on the campus of Kent State University brought out the National Guard that fired 67 rounds (in response to sniper fire, the official story initially suggested) and killed four students. Nine were wounded. Students would later be prosecuted for their role in the rally. The National Guard was absolved. It was a time of deep and divisive opinion about the war. President Nixon referred to the ground-swell of nationwide participants as "bums." Police and National Guard troops faced off with rallies across the country.

But killing kids -- Americans shooting Americans? It was a step too far, even for some of those who bought into the notion that if Vietnam fell to the communists, could Amarillo or Dayton be far behind? Kent State brought out protesters everywhere ... before the war 'ended' and the peace movement dissolved back into the population, shaping and perhaps informing the women's rights movement or civil rights. But the war was lost and the peace had not been won: Killing kids was possible; don't fuck with us; we are the validated ones, the leaders of the 'free' world' and the war makers whose righteousness could not be questioned beyond a certain point without ....

Killing your kids.

And on my opium couch, I float ... feeling the willingness to kill our kids rising anew. Freedom of speech is a limited commodity and we'll shoot our own citizens to make the point. I do not think it is hyperbole to imagine the businessmen who run Washington will pull out those stops anew. Our flag deserves validation, don't you think? And if you don't think, we will help you think because our income depends on it.

During the Vietnam War, TV footage back home routinely showed flag-draped coffins being brought home. Day after day; night after night ... the American flag wrapped around oblong boxes in which young men were brought back. It was decorous and it was wearing and the policy makers learned their lessons ... nowadays, they say disingenuously, we will not intrude on a family's grief by showing their offspring's coffin. Coffins are off-limits, just as rambling, ranging reporters are off-limits during combat. War means death and dismemberment, but if no one sees it, it is not my responsibility ... and, on my validated couch, it is not true.

I was in the army at the time that John F. Kennedy began making the reality of the Vietnam War a possibility. "Advisors," the first soldiers were dubbed in the early 1960's. I was not shooting or getting shot at. My job was to translate intercepted telephone calls in Germany. It was a job and I did it. I did not feel linked. I too was, give or take a little, validated in my existence.

Kennedy was assassinated. I was standing at a window overlooking the military compound where I lived when someone told me. Later I got out of the army and wondered how much more effective the peace rallies might be if everyone showed up in a suit and tie. Mass movements frightened me, even then, so I didn't dip my oar in the peace-effort waters. Looking at the TV last night, I sort of wish I had. But I am still frightened of the mindlessness of groups, whatever the agenda. Or perhaps I simply want to be more applauded, more visible, less swallowed in the crowd.

Validation. I can feel the urge rising up at every turn. What might it be like if -- instead of seeking validation as a peace-monger or a war-monger or a money-maker or a Buddhist -- I did not require the warm clouds of validation from others. What might it be like if I simply did what I did and thought what I thought and took responsibility for it? True, it might be lonely, but is it any the less true -- seeking validation from others may accomplish wonderful things, but then I am left hanging and doubting and yearning for your touch. And in the end, there is still only what I believe or think or act on.


I have gotten lost in this blog post. I'd like to make it crisp and clear, but all I've got is associative clouds.

Validation ... better keep an eye on it. I don't care if you're right: I care if you're responsible. And the same goes for me.

If you say so and she says so and he says so and they say so, I must be right, right?

Killing kids -- ours or theirs, no difference. Validation in the Bible or Quran, the marches or the white-whining, the stock market or the banks, the politics or the Elks Club dinner ... validation until the validation runs out and it is time to get to work.

Biting the clouds.

1 comment:

  1. verb (used with object), validated, validating.
    to make valid; substantiate; confirm:
    Time validated our suspicions.
    to give legal force to; legalize.
    to give official sanction, confirmation, or approval to, as elected officials, election procedures, documents, etc.:
    to validate a passport.

    But more commonly used these days in this way:

    After that, i guess we want our opinions supported by other opinions. I have lots of opinions. But then, what good are they really?

    But i'm of the opinion that your opinions are ok, so i'm willing to validate your parking.