Sunday, October 29, 2006

Writhing in Thought

One of my students in critically reviewing an article refers to the author as “writhing the article.” That kind of writing is always the hardest. More than likely, the student was referring to himself as someone who was writhing in having to think critically about a text.

Students in my classes have been struggling with their critical review assignment. Some students are struggling with evaluating a movie, too, not recognizing that a movie can be approached as a text. Once one has seen a movie often enough, it becomes relatively easy to pick out where the movie works and where it doesn’t. Perhaps high schools should assist students in developing their critical senses by seeing movies like Citizen Kane, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and The Graduate. Even evaluating a movie like The Breakfast Club could prove profitable. It’s too bad that the subject matter in those kinds of movies wouldn’t be appropriate for our young people and would lead to parents protesting about what their little darlings are being exposed to. It’s no wonder that recent posts at Rate Your Students have mentioned how high school students tend to do nothing but bide their time until graduation. I know I hated high school and couldn’t wait to have it end. Struggling to understand Citizen Kane would have been better than reading Travels with Charlie in English class or better than watching my political science teacher comb his hair in front of the class.

Maybe I shouldn’t expect too much thinking from my freshmen. We’re not a society that promotes thinking as a virtue.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Never Certain

As I mentioned in a previous post back in August, I used to question whether I did the right thing by not serving in Vietnam when I was a security policeman in the US Air Force. This doubt has entered one of my poems, one that appeared recently in Project for a New Mythology. This poem also won an in-house prize judged by Mark Doty when I was a graduate student years ago; the poem remained unpublished until recently.

I recognize that my understanding of the weapons in use then is wrong; that misunderstanding is intentional. Let's hope that no one shares the feelings I once knew regarding the current conflict involving American troops.

Never Certain

I was trained for war as a child,
given toy soldiers and taken to movies.
July afternoons in the yard I reenacted
the liberation of France, the taking
of Porkchop Hill in Korea. My father
told a story of spending the first
night of the invasion at Omaha Beach
with the dead all around him,
before he fell into silence.
He gave me the oath when I enlisted
and asked me not to disappoint him.
Assigned first to Montana, I guarded

tankers on alert. Eager to tell
the stories that we heard nightly
about mamasan selling her mouth
in the shower, papasan selling sticks
of marijuana carted from Thailand,
and the sappers who lobbed mortar
shells from the jungle, creating action
on the flightline, my friends volunteered.
Not convinced, no matter how alluring
the account, but still more afraid,
I asked for England. I spent a year
guarding nuclear bombs against the fog

that crossed the perimeter and crawled
below the fence, waiting for me
to look away as I drew pipefuls
of hashish into my lungs. I handed
out leaflets and marched in London
against the war. I took a discharge
offered, with benefits, two years early.
It took only weeks to regret my choices.
I missed my nights on post, my friends.
No one else I knew had stayed home.
Even now at times, thirty some years
later, when I count up the time
spent inside, stoned, jobless, alone,
with no ribbons but national defense
stored away with my night stick, I wish
I had joined my friends from high school,
my friends from Montana in AZR training
at Lackland. Like Azrael, the angel
of death, I could have learned
to separate a soul from its body
with a knife, a bazooka, a mortar
before boarding a plane for Da Nang.

I could have spent a year releasing
my nineteen year old lust. I could have
peered through a night scope and aimed
my M60 machine gun at the shapes
firing mortar shells onto the flightline,
watching them fall like silhouettes.
I could have created my own silences
for the last night of stuffing
my dufflebag, before adding
my souvenirs to the stack of bodybags
flown back to the world.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Dulce et Decorum Est

One of the strongest of the antiwar poems written in English is Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est." Although he died in France during World War I, he recognized the futility of war. The Latin at the end of the poem translates as "Sweet and fitting it is/to Die for one's country." The poem can be found at the following link: Wilfred Owen

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!-An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,-
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.


The only time when war might be justified now, in this post World War II era, is when one's own country is invaded; otherwise, there are far better ways to solve problems and conflicts. You would think we would get smarter after all of the years that have made up humankind. The events of 9/11 don't signal invasion; anyone who lived in Europe during the time of 1969 to 1985 or so, recognizes that terrorism can be a constant threat. It can be prepared for, if the government and officials are competent, but the event itself can happen at any time.

Even attacking Afghanistan was not necessary. You didn't see the British invade the Republic of Ireland whenever a bomb was set off in London. The problem with the IRA was solved through diplomacy. Likewise, our government should have analyzed the situation and determined what we could have done to lessen the hostility against America. A thinking president would have gotten troops out of Saudi Arabia and done everything possible to find alternatives to petroleum products so that this country's presence in the Mid-East could have been drastically reduced.

Similarly, the president should have ensured that oil producing nations deciding to switch from the dollar as the currency of exchange to, say, euros, should not threaten the economic health of this nation and should not serve as a reason to invade Iraq and as a reason to bomb Iran in the near future.

That's how the lives of those Americans killed on 9/11 should have been remembered.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


I have been playing around with my camera recently. Ideally, I would like to get outside and see whether I can find scenes worthy of capturing without having to travel as far as the Konza Prairie, outside of Manhattan. That venture into the country will have to wait a few more days.

My wife made the paperweight appearing on the left in the second picture. When we were working on our PhD's, she took a class offered by the community. It lasted only for one day, provided insight into what's involved in making paperweights, and turned out to be great fun.