Do Hispanic Lives Matter?

In a startling reversal, Republican Mayra Flores has won a U.S. Congressional seat held mostly by the Democratic Party for over a hundred years. It’s located in the Rio Grande valley in Texas, a border community now flooded with illegal migrants seeking a better life and with drugs wrecking the lives of current Americans.

Mayra Flores

For some it signals a possible sea of change in U.S. politics with the shift of Hispanic Americans from the Democratic Party, where they have been a reliable voting  bloc, to a reinvigorated Republican Party. Rising crime has been a chief factor in the change with Hispanics on the border doubly impacted. They face a deluge of newcomers and also -a mere wade across the Rio Grande – one of the most violent, ruinous regimes on earth, the drug cartels that control the entire border on the Mexican side and indeed all of Mexico. On one side freedom, on the other a particular kind of rapacious tyranny.

It’s intra-ethnic. No identity politics involved. Powerful Hispanics suppress and pillory more vulnerable Hispanics without let-up because there’s no accountability. American sympathy is highly selective. Tears are copiously shed for the suffering in Ukraine, but eyes are dry over the plight of Mexicans. This reflects American media coverage which dwells on any number of far-off wars of no danger to the U.S. while ignoring the genuine danger close at hand. The kind ofmass murders (four or more people killed in an incident) that outrage Americans are every dayoccurrences in Mexico. where more journalists are murdered than anywhere else on earth.

Hispanics may well ask if their lives matter and may indeed vote on the question. There was a time when Americans took the question very seriously indeed. Ina fit of expansion the young U.S Government got into a war with Mexico that seemed to block its way west. It was a nasty 1840s struggle won by the U.S, which hadto decide what to do with its victory. American opinion was divided. Some said leave Mexico alone and get out. A group of wealthy Mexicans begged the invading army to take over their prostrate country, and arch imperialists in Washington shared that view. President James Polk compromised by taking the northern half of Mexico which was later divided into several states,including Texas and California.

But what if the extremists had prevailed and the U.S. had taken charge of Mexico? Many decades of Mexican national history would be missing, but so too would today’s drug cartels under moderate U.S. governance. The cartels wouldn’t be able to exploit a border that doesn’t exist. Racial sensitivities might be ruffled by such a change in U.S. demographics with the accession of Mexico, but peace would prevail, and the Civil War might even have been avoided since Mexico was not suitable for slavery.

Dream on. Utopia does not exist. Yet today the U.S. could do much more to guide Mexico through its timeof trouble. To begin with, seal the border with U.S. troops who could pursue the cartels into Mexico if necessary and weaken them in the process. They are an armed threat currently running thousands of illegal marijuana farms in various parts of the U.S. It’s time to show Hispanic lives both here and in Mexico matter.

Poetry and War

War is always with us and so are poets who are trying in their various ways to make sense of it. Here are some examples over the centuries:

In the famed Trojan War the Greek leader Achilles is awakened at the sound of battle in Homer’s Iliad translated by Christopher Logue :

Achilles suddenly saw his armour in that instant,

And its ominous radiance flooded his heart.

His shield as round and rich as moons in spring;

His sword’s half parked between sheaves of gray obsidian,

From which a lucid blade stood out, leaf-shaped, adorned

With running spirals, 

And for his head a welded cortex; yes,

Though it is noon, the helmet screams against the light;

Scratches the eye; so violent it can be seen

Across three thousand years.

War is a pleasure for ninth century Arabic poet Al-Mutanabbi:

Tastier than old wine, 

Sweeter than the passing of winecups

Is the play of swords and lances,

The clash of armies at my command.

To face death in Battle is my life

For life is what fulfills the soul.

New England poet Ralph Waldo Emerson is next to a monument to the American revolutionaries who won their freedom fromBritain:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood

And fired the shot heard round the world.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare,

To die, and leave their children free

Bid Time and Nature gently spare

The shaft we raise to them and thee.

The Irish poet William Butler Yeats says an Irish airman foresees his death in the first World War:

I know that I shall meet my fate

Somewhere among the clouds above;

Those that I fight I do not hate;

Those that I guatd I do not love;

My country is Kilkartan  Cross,

My countrymen Kilkartan’s poor,

No likely end could bring them loss

Or make them happier than before.

No law nor duty bade me fight,

Nor public men nor cheering crowds.

A lonely impulse of delight

Drove to the tumult in the clouds.

I balanced all, brought all to mind.

The years to come seemed waste of breath,

A waste of breath the years behind

In balance with this life, this death.

American poet Wallace Stevens tells of another doomed flyer in World War Two:

This man escaped the dirty fates,

Knowing that he did nobly as he died.

Darkness, nothingness of after- death,

Receive and keep him in the deepnesses of space-

Profundum, physical thunder, dimension in which

We believe without belief, beyond belief.

Is Mental Illness the Answer?

After the Uvalde shootings that killed nineteen students and twoteachers, there has been no let-up in related massacres around the U.S. So far this year there have been more than 240 mass shootings with 256 killed and 1010 injured. Along with pleas for gun control have come urgent demands for dealing with mental illness held responsible for much of the carnage. How else explain the unceasing violence?

But is that too easy and comforting an explanation? We are told the distraught killer did not really know what he was doing. He was prey to some force beyond his control. Submit him to some mental rehabilitation, and he can recover from his illness and achieve normality.

That assumes he wants to recover and criminality is not his normal being. Take the recent incident in the New York City subway when an aggressive man pulled another passenger’s  hair and shoved her around the car. Senseless it seemed, but not so. The predator appeared to be enjoying himself. Violence maybe his pleasure and his pastime. The fact that not a single male in the car came to the victim’s defense can be partly attributed to cowardice but also to deference to mental illness. The poor fellow didn’t know what he was doing.

If such violence is to be equated with mental illness, what do we do with Russian ruler Josef Stalin, one of the greatest mass murderers of all time who clearly enjoyed killing and liked to observe the executions he ordered? It would have taken a bevy of psychiatrists to treat him, and whatever their conclusions, they would have all been murdered.

Yet he was arguably the most successful ruler of the last century and the most influential. Communism, Stalinist style, continued to spread after his death in 1953 as he had wanted and predicted. His hideously forced industrialization at the cost of several million Russian and Ukrainian lives gave him supreme powerand paved the way to victory in World War Two over the far better army of mass-killing Adolf Hitler. Along the way he outwitted such luminaries as Churchill and Roosevelt. He never met his match. Quite an accomplishment for mental illness.

The great psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud spent an often frustrating lifetime analyzing mental illness. In the end he concluded that psychoanalysis can only go so far. Ultimately,two instincts are permanently lodged in the human being – that of life or creativity and that of death or aggression. In perpetual conflict, the one advances civilization, the other destroys it. The individual chooses which to pursue – a Stalin of destruction or, say, a Gandhi of creativity. Illness plays no part.

Retire the Neocons

The word out of Washington is that the Ukraine war may last longer than expected, maybe several months, maybe a couple of years, who knows? Sound familiar? Like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and you name it, unending wars with no discernible outcome. Not a thrilling prospect, to be sure, but perfectly satisfactory to that hardy band of zealots known as neoconservatives who believe war is an answer to almost anything and in that regard have driven U.S. foreign policy since the presidency of Bill Clinton.

Their aim is to reshape the world in ways agreeable to the U.S. and Israel, preeminent powers at an historical turning point. They got started with the Clinton Administration in the 1990’s. when weakened by scandal, the President was persuaded to add three new members to NATO – Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic – in clear violation of a pledge of top U.S. leaders at the collapse of the Soviet Union not to expand the military alliance toward a diminished Russia. The fumbling Russian regime of Boris Yeltsin protested but was ignored.

It was an indication of how the neocons would get their way whatever the obstacles. Then the 9/11 attack provided an unexpected opening not only for more NATO members but also for another prized neocon desire – the invasion of Iraq. This was achieved with the help of a compliant media even though the reason for it was mythical. The target Saddam Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, as was charged, or any connection to the instigator of 9/11, al-Qaeda.

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The result was an ill-advised, protracted war that led along with other conflicts to a million civilian deaths and several million refugees in a disabled Middle East. But the neocons didn’t have to say they were sorry or even lick their wounds. Leading a charmed life. it was just on to the next endeavor. Switching from the Republican Party of a confused George Bush to the Democratic ranks of President Obama they showed that party was no obstacle to ideology.

They established an ideological companion John Brennan as the President’s intelligence chief whose main job was to give political protection to the neocons and allies. He lived up to expectations. Ensconced at the U.S. State Department, neocon Victoria Nuland made sure the U.S. had a central role in an uprising that replaced a pro-Russian regime in Ukraine with a pro-American one. There followed the militarization of Ukraine with abundant U.S. aid and weaponry. Putin retaliated by annexing Crimea and encouraging the independence of portions of Eastern Ukraine with a large Russian population.

President Trump initially resisted the neocons much to their horror and pledged not to start new wars. But then oddly, he chose two or three neocons for top posts who in turn persuaded him to eliminate Iranian General Soleimani, an accomplished strategist with whom Trump might have made a useful deal. The assassination was by way of remote-controlled drone, a rather contemptible form of warfare admired by many on the right.

With the advent of President Biden, it was pure bliss for the neocons who have completely taken over foreign policy. The ever-active Nuland pressed for Ukraine to join NATO, thus threatening to cross Putin’s red line. Given the circumstances the Russian ruler chose to invade Ukraine, with the neocons dreaming of a Russian loss that puts it under U.S. supervision like Ukraine. Neocon National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says he looks forward to a “weakened and isolated Russia.”

Dream on. So far neocon dreams have led only to chaos. Why should anything be different now? It’s time to retire the neocons from public service and replace them with competent strategists who exist outside of Washington but haven’t been allowed in by the neocon monopoly. Considering the current danger of confrontation between two nuclear armed powers, there’s little time to spare.

The Lessons of Julius Caesar

Seldom, if ever, have we learned of a major war through the one man who brought it on, won it and then described it. Yet for that we are indebted to Julius Caesar, who was determined to conquer Gaul for Rome and then explain it in memoirs of battle and its aftermath that are unparalleled in military writings.

If only it was left like that. But somehow through the ages Caesar became another worldly figure, for some a demi-god, for others evil incarnate that overwhelmed the sturdy soldier beneath. Let his memoirs tell us what he was – an extremely skilled strategist and leader of men who pursued a clear goal on this earth with little reference to the gods or any other external forces. The war was his alone, to win or lose.

Writing of himself in the third person, Caesar becomes a part, if a crucial one, of the battle scene. There’s not a trace of undue pride except in the army he leads, and – no doubt to the astonishment of contemporary war gazers – he often respects the enemy he faces. He writes that one group of Gauls had “such an outstanding reputation for courage” he avoided giving battle until he decided his own troops could be even braver. He says the Gauls may be volatile and imprudent, but he doesn’t indulge the modern habit of name calling. There’s no moral posturing. The word “evil” is not in his vocabulary. He has his values – Rome – but the enemy has theirs.

Surrender by the Gallic chieftain Vercingetorix before Caesar

As a result, he is often parleying as much as fighting. Easier to talk an enemy into surrender or compromise than killing or being killed. Not that he would hesitate when the need arose. As he wrote in a rare personal description on the verge of an enemy attack, “Caesar had to see to everything at once. The flag must be unfurled, the trumpet sounded, the soldiers must be recalled from working on the defenses, and all those who had gone some way off in search of material for the earthworks had to be ordered back to camp. He must draw up the battle line, encourage the men, give the signal.” Battlefield victories followed.

Caesar was famous for fast forced marches that caught the enemy unawares and for rapid construction of imposing structures of assault by the enemy’s walls. On one occasion he writes that “never before had the Gauls seen or heard of such immense siege works, and they were so disturbed by the Romans’ speed of action that they sent envoys to Caesar to negotiate surrender.” In ten days with great effort he constructed a bridge to allow his army to cross the Rhine. After spending eighteen days intimidating the Germans on the other side to his “honor and advantage,” he returned to Gaul and tore down the bridge.

Early on, he faced rebellion within. His own troops were intimidated by the size and ferocity of the Germans they were about to face and panic set in. Rather than execute every tenth man Stalin-style, he gave a long reassuring speech in which he cited the weaknesses of the enemy and the firmness of purpose of the Romans. Besides, if they chose not to accept his lead, he would be willing to face the enemy with only those who remained loyal. In the event they all did and won a hard-fought battle.

In eight years Caesar achieved his goal of bringing all Gaul into the Roman polity, an area comprising present day France, Belgium and parts of Germany and the Netherlands. It was an extension that led to empire and the lasting reputation of the conqueror at the cost, to be sure, of untold lives and the occasional barbarity not unique to Caesar.

Instigators and enthusiasts of U.S. wars and proxy wars, by all means read “The Gallic War.”

The Emperor and the Poet

In the dawn of our first century Emperor Augustus brought marble to Rome and peace to the empire after a series of destructive civil wars from which he emerged the victor. At first he pursued vengeance but later turned to forgiveness, a quality that marked his strong, one-man rule over a vast terrain.

One of those he forgave was the poet Horace, who fought against him at the climactic battle of Actium but not very well. He lost his shield in the middle of battle and withdrew in some humiliation. Not one to let politics interfere with poetry in the golden age of Latin literature, Augustus knew Horace would add luster to his own rule and befriended him, even though the poet had a far different view of the good life – not triumph in war or politics but the simple pleasures of close friends and ample wine in a relaxed country setting and not a care beyond.

Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65-8 BC), commonly known as Horace, Venosa, Italy

Snugly terse Latin is not easily translated into expansive English, but author David Ferry brings it off. Horace rebukes a friend for telling too many war stories:

But Telephus, you’re no good at all at telling
How much the wine is going to cost or who
Is going to make the fire to heat the water,
Who’s going to give the party, under whose roof
We’ll be invited in out of the cold.
Let’s have a party. Come, let’s celebrate.

That means with wine which is duly praised:

Your gentle discipline encourages
The dull to be less dull than usual,
And Bacchus, joyful deliverer, reveals
What the sober wise man really meant to say.
You bring back hope to the despairing heart
And you give courage to the poor man, so
He’s neither scared of tyrants in their crowns
Nor soldiers brandishing their scary weapons.

Horace will not budge from his way of life:

The splendid lord of the riches of Africa
Mistakenly thinks he’s better off than I
With my little farm whose crops I’m certain of’
And my little quiet stream of pure brook water.
I don’t have hives of bees from Calabria
Busily making their honey just for me;
I don’t have jars of rare Laestrygonian wine
Slowly maturing itself just for me.
Want much, lack much. That man has just enough
To whom the gods have given just enough.

With Augustus perhaps in mind Horace pays tribute to Rome:

Let the name of Rome be heard across the sea,
Over to Egypt where the great river swells.
Let the Romans go to the limits of the world,
Not for the sake of plunder but for the sake
Of extending Roman knowledge everywhere
From the dervish heat of the desert raving and dancing
To the dripping mists and fogs of the northern swamps.

He and Augustus died about the same time with similar lasting legacies:

I have finished a work outlasting bronze
And the pyramids of ancient royal kings.
Some part of me will live on and not be given
Over into the hands of the death goddess.
I will go on and on, kept ever young
In the praise in times to come for what I have done.

Ending the War in Ukraine

Day after day Ukraine is pounded by Russian artillery, giving the world a graphic picture of modern war. The U.S. continues to send military aid to the heroic Ukrainians resisting the Russian attack, but prolonging the war only leads to more death and destruction whatever the eventual outcome. The solution is negotiations now that will resolve the issue in dispute – whether Ukraine joins NATO.

The anomaly is that the Biden Administration and the NATO chief don’t seem to be all that committed to the matter. They say, well, Ukraine may or may not join NATO. We aren’t sure right now. Let’s wait and see. By contrast Russian leader Putin wants an iron-clad agreement right now in writing that Ukraine will not join.

It sounds pedantic, but he has his reasons. On the verge of collapse, the Soviet Union agreed to the reunification of Berlin in return for a U.S. pledge that NATO would not advance eastward toward Moscow. But ten years later that pledge was violated when President Clinton, under pressure from the war-inclined neocons in his administration, brought in three nations to NATO from the former Soviet bloc. Over the protest of Putin, others later followed until reaching today’s total of thirty, four of them on the Russian border – a resolute defense.

At that point Putin drew his red line on Ukraine. He could also cite another intrusion as he sees it. In 2014, neocons in the Obama Administration got involved in an uprising in Ukraine and gave crucial support to the overthrow of the pro-Russian government and its replacement by one friendly to the U.S. Some say they have similar plans for Putin.

Yet so far Putin has not been unreasonable in his demands. Along with a neutral Ukraine, he wants independence for two parts of eastern Ukraine largely populated by Russians and the removal of some weapons directed at Russia from NATO nations. He says he does not want to remove the current government of Ukraine. President Zelensky can continue to stand.

But this is now. Opinions can change along with circumstances as the war progresses. Not too surprisingly, Putin has become a figure of hate. He started the war and, as they say, he has blood on his hands. TV host Sean Hannity asked ex-President Trump if he would declare Putin “evil.” The Don demurred, but there would be a chorus of “yes” in Washington, where support for Ukraine is near total. Hannity and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham have even called for the assassination of Putin.

There remains the possibility of a larger war. The Biden Administration says it doesn’t want any U.S. military involvement, but a growing number of members of the U.S. Congress call for the U.S. to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine which would lead to shooting down Russian planes and therefore war. That suits the indignant writer of an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. He urges putting NATO troops in western Ukraine to show Putin we mean business, and he may be too intimidated to react.

Looking further afield, the Biden Administration has disclosed that Russia has asked China for military help. The Asian nation will be duly punished with U.S. sanctions if it obliges. This opens the question of a two-front conflict with these increasingly allied nuclear powers. Don’t worry, we’re told, we can handle it and also try to avoid Armageddon.

Let’s instead try negotiations and make sure they succeed.