Tag Archives: musings

Why War Is (Still) Stupid

26 May

I wrote this almost 3 years ago, early on in my blogging days, but sadly it still seems to be ringing truer than ever…

During Desert Storm, the first war in Iraq, a student in my class raised his hand and asked me a question.

“Hey, Mr. Picone, did you see that general on TV who was showing the video where a cruise missile tracks down an Iraqi truck and blows it up right there on a bridge?”

“Yes, I replied. I did.”

“Well, continued the student, how much do you think that old Iraqi truck was worth?”

“Oh about 20 to 30 thousand dollars,” I guessed

“And that bomb with the camera inside that tracked it down and blew it up. That cost a few hundred million didn’t it?”

“Yes, I think you’re right.” I said.

“So my question is, said the student who was about to give me something very interesting to think about, If our country is Spending 200 million dollars to blow up a 20,000 dollar truck how long can we keep that up before going broke?”

He asked me that question in 1992 and although I had no answer for him then, apparently my answer should have been, “Oh, I’d say about 16 years!” War is stupid because eventually we all go broke. You can bet money on it! Just ask Egypt and Greece and Rome and Persia and Spain and England and France and the Soviet Union and…now…US.!

We owe 18 trillion dollars and have no plans for paying off that debt except for the proposed dismantling of our Social services, pension systems and national infrastructure. Some plan, huh?

All civilizations eventually either spend all of their money on feeding the wealthy’s appetite for more wealth or on war, neither of which is an ingredient in any recipe for the extended prosperity and growth of a civilization and its people. And we here in the United States are doing both…at the same time!

Education however, no matter how expensive it may be for a civilization’s inhabitants to fund, sustain and expand never leads to the end of anyone’s civilization. When will we ever learn that?

Parents, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys

25 May

As Memorial Day arrives we take time to reflect on the liberties and freedom we all share due to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for us. My father served during World War II, My grandfather during World War I, and my great grandfather during the Civil War. They all saw action and survived while others did not and we can say today without any doubt that those who gave their lives in service to their country did so in valiant efforts to preserve what we so cherish here in the United States today…

But which of those wars was the war to end all wars? And will that war ever be fought? When I was young one American dream that was a big time favorite but by now really should have run its course was that of being a soldier. Whenever adults would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would always say “I want to be an army man!” That was back in the 50s and early 60s when playing soldier was a common pastime among young children. Once my father, a WWII veteran, explained to me that war involved fighting and possibly dieing, I soon changed my mind and as the Vietnam War loomed in my teenage future I wondered if perhaps my childhood boasting of wanting to be an army man would become an inevitable and now unwanted reality. Fortunately for me the draft and then the war ended and the country’s views toward wars and fighting them seemed to change for the better but now here in the 21st century we seem to have turned back towards war as a viable alternative to peace or perhaps even more insanely as a partner of peace!

Remember when you would get into a fight and your school principal or your teacher would tell you that fighting is wrong and that no matter who started it, it still was wrong to fight? When did we ever stop teaching and learning that lesson? We should no longer be encouraging any of our children to aspire to fighting or war. When will we ever learn that war is counterproductive to life? It seems like such a simple lesson to learn.

In my New Jersey high school we have a JROTC program. That stands for Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps and it is a class or series of classes and after school activities that help prepare high school children for a career in the military. Some believe that this is a good idea and I have seen many students proudly enroll in the program, graduate and continue on in a successful military career. However, that was back in the days when the United States was not actively involved in any wars and the graduating JROTC students went on to enjoy careers in a peacetime military. Today, most of these students are being groomed and prepared for active military duty in a wartime military and  many if not most of these young adults actually believe that they are preparing for something that will be fun and rewarding and once they develop their military skills they become eager to actually test themselves under real combat conditions. They look forward to becoming the new modern day cowboys of America.

This is something that I find very disturbing because these students are still children and we who work in the public schools are not just responsible for educating children. We are also responsible for protecting children. And part of what it means to protect our children involves making sure that they understand what it is that fighting and going off to war really means. And so as educators and citizens and community members we should all know better, and here’s why…

I took my own children shopping at Old Navy one day. You know that great American clothing store that sells the kind of clothes that young Americans just love to wear and have to have. As they were browsing I began browsing also and noticed that all of the clothes were made, not in America, (Gasp! Who else has an old navy?) But rather in Vietnam! Vietnam was the communist country America had fought over 40 years ago where we desperately tried to fend off communism and save democracy from the falling red dominoes that would crush us all one by one. And here today were my children happily sorting through the latest fashions in American clothes made by one of our most recent enemies, the Vietnamese! And then it dawned on me…apparently this is what our soldiers had fought for. 56,000 Americans fought and died and countless others were injured and forever scarred to ensure that someday a cheap labor source would be available to help put Americans out of work. Young adults of my generation studied hard, graduated high school, were randomly selected by our government in a lottery and sent halfway around the world in order to kill their own future jobs! Ain’t that a kick in the cargo pants?!

Is this possible? Am I remembering history incorrectly? The United States invaded Vietnam to stem the tide of communism. The war escalated. American teenagers were then drafted to bolster the armed forces desperate fight. The war continued for 10 years. Vietnam was devastated. 56,000 Americans were killed. Millions of Vietnamese citizens were killed. We eventually evacuated our forces in 1972. The communists prevailed and took over the country…and soon they began happily making clothes for Americans to wear! How did that happen? And what does this all have to do with your high school children and cowboys? Well, let’s see…

Back in the 1960s, when I was a teenager in high school, we all worried about the draft. During the year when a boy turned 18 he officially became a man, at least in the government’s eyes, and was required to register for selective service in the armed forces which meant that if your number came up in the subsequent draft lottery you would soon be headed to the war in Vietnam where your life would almost certainly be changed forever. As the casualties in Vietnam mounted, so did the public opposition to the draft. To randomly select recent high school graduates and send them off to war no longer seemed fair and although we all knew that it was all about fighting communism, and keeping the world safe for democracy, and serving God and our country and doing our duty etc., the prospects of going off to war no longer seemed exciting, just frightening. We probably have television to thank for this change in public opinion because that same medium that was bombarding us with advertisements and images of sex and violence that was surely going to rot our young brains was also showing us the truth about real violence and the real horrors of war. It was television and its pervasive sounds and images of real death and violence, along with the undeniable unfairness of a draft that could randomly pluck your children out of your home and end their lives at a moment’s notice, which brought about the end of the draft and the end of the Vietnam War.

So, what does that have to do with buying clothes made in Vietnam? Well, its 40 years later and we still have wars but now however, with an all volunteer army, it is harder to complain about those wars and how we as a country use our military because the government can always say, “They volunteered. No one made them join. They’re patriots proudly doing their duty.” That is a position that is very hard to argue with but still I am going to try to make my point and my point is this.

As teachers we need to present to our students all of the facts about history and especially the facts about the affects of war on the people who fight them, namely our children who become our soldiers, and who we send off to foreign lands to inevitably end the lives of someone else’s children. So here are some facts to consider…

In 1776 we fought the hated British for our liberty and freedom and the right to establish our own government. Then they invaded our new country again in 1812 and burned down Washington D.C. Later that century in 1863 they even considered aiding the Confederate states during our civil war to help divide our nation forever, but they decided not to so we eventually became friends again, saved their asses with massive invasion forces during two world wars and today we’re BFF!

In 1844 we invaded Mexico and fought the hated Mexicans who massacred Davey Crockett at the Alamo. Today, it’s the Mexican army (or so it seems) who shows up to fix my roof or cut my lawn or patch my sidewalks or trim my trees whenever I hire an American contractor to do the work. In 1898 we fought the hated Spanish in the Spanish-American war, remember that? Or rather remember the Maine?! Today, Spanish is the fastest growing language spoken in the U.S.A.

In 1918 and 1945 we fought the hated Germans who wanted to take over the world and kill us all, and yet by the 1960s every family in America it seemed owned at least one Volkswagen Beetle, the most affordable car of its time, made in Germany.

Who hated the Japanese more than us in 1941? If you had told my father and his WWII buddies in 1945 that someday a Japanese man nicknamed “Godzilla” would play the beloved Joe DiMaggio’s position in centerfield for the New York Yankees and win the World Series MVP while doing it, they would have plotzed! Right there in their pants! Right after their heads exploded!

My point is this. War isn’t hell. It’s stupidity! The people we kill today will tomorrow make our clothes and take our jobs. Why not just cut to the chase and just all be friends and go shopping? We need to teach our children to stop volunteering and to stop thinking that war is going to be fun. We need to teach them to stop believing that we’ve got to go over there to keep them from coming over here. They’re here already! And if not they’ll be here eventually and either with our soldiers help or because we simply invited them! Do you seriously doubt that “Made in Iraq” will be seen somewhere in your house in the near future or that a 7ft. something Afghani will be starting at center for the NY Knicks this decade and making 10 million dollars a year? I don’t.

We need to teach our children that going off to war today will only mean that if and when they come home it will most likely be with a shattered body and a rattled mind and the inability to enjoy as adults what they were sent off as children to protect in the first place.

So parents, don’t let your babies dream or grow up to be cowboys, unless they’re the kind who play in Dallas and get paid big bucks to wear their helmets and protect their heads when they do…although unfortunately that’s another story all together…

WMDs?

20 May

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Here is how you know if a country has WMDs or not, especially nuclear warheads like Dick Cheney asserted in 2003 before the invasion of Iraq with this statement: “We know he [Saddam Hussein] has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”

First: No one, not even the United States, invades a country that has WMDs. That’s why North Korea and Pakistan and Russia and China can do or say whatever they like without any fear of the United States taking any military intervention. So can France, Great Britain, India and Israel…but they are of course all supposed to be our great and close friends.

Second: If you are an invaded country and the leader of that country that actually has WMDs, then rather than watch your country be conquered while you cower in a hole, you use your WMDs on the invading troops as a last resort to your own defeat. That is why possessing WMDs is such a deterrent and threatening defense against invasion in the first place.

Third: Only 9 countries have real WMDs. We know who they are. And if ever there were to be a 10th, (Like Iran wants to be, and notice how they haven’t been able to surprise anyone about their intentions despite our supposed horrible and incompetent intelligence community?) you could find out on Wikipedia as soon as it happens.

And Finally: If any country in the Middle East, besides Israel, had WMDs, the Israeli’s would blow the crap out of them and take names and ask questions later…and then, when they were done, ask for the United States permission and intervention.

And that is how we know that Iraq never had WMDs and that the call to war against Iraq over the threat of their possessing WMDs, made by the Bush administration after the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center was always based on false pretenses.

And old rotting chemical weapons that were buried in various locations within Iraq, that were there because the United States had once upon a time given them to Iraq to use in their war against Iran during the 1980s, (we sold weapons to Iran at the same time by the way) and that we knew were still there, dysfunctional and buried, do not constitute a WMD or nuclear threat. Besides, you have chemical weapons in your kitchen cabinet and whether or not you have enough for mass destruction is frankly speaking…up to you.

Why politicians and the media still can’t figure all of this out, or pretend not to be able to, is beyond me.

It’s All In the Head!

19 May

My best advice for education reform now and in the future is to take care of the children and simply this…”Parents and children of the world! Protect the head!

Forget about mandatory seat belts and car seats and bicycle helmets for young children. It’s too late by then. I say mandatory helmets for all newborns, not to be removed until the age of ten! We’ll have to develop some new age material that will be form fitting and fashionable of course and impervious to assault from small animals, siblings and adults who like to shake, shake, shake… shake their kids silly, but we can do it!

How did I arrive at this startling realization that the head is our most important teaching and learning tool? One day during class it occurred to me to ask one of my lower track freshmen classes, after a particularly hard day of trying to get them to understand the concept of sitting still, if perhaps any of them had ever suffered from head trauma as a young child? Blank stares filled the room and not one hand was raised. Briefly confused myself, I quickly realized my mistake and explained that trauma meant getting smacked upside the head.

That’s when every hand shot up into the air.

“Oh sure, said one boy, my brother hit me in the head with a baseball bat!”

“When did that happen?” I asked.

“Everyday when I was 6!” came his answer.

“Me too!” Said another boy, but it was my dad who hit me. Mom tried to protect me though. She said, hit him in the ass you idiot.”

“I fell down the stairs! Lots!” said a young girl.

“I fell out of the car.”

“I ran through the sliding door window!”

“I liked to hit myself with my shoes! Said another girl. That’s when I got my first pair of sneakers and went to the “Little Genius Academy”. I used to be a genius you know.”

And that’s when I knew I was on to something. All of my poorly performing, low achieving, attention demanding students had all suffered head trauma at an early age and some consistently! In every class, when I asked my students this question, almost always, all hands went up. It was their one common bond (besides being scatterbrained).

So I say this to all parents and children everywhere. Protect the head! At all times!  It’s the only one you’ve got and you’re going to need it every day!

L…Is Still for Mom

11 May

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone. If you aren’t a mother than you most assuredly have one, so it is a day that we can and should all celebrate. I posted this 2 years ago and as I read it over, I see that most if not all of what I had said then is still true today…so here it is… once again…

It has always struck me as odd, that most westerners of the modern age worship a god who is male when it is the female who gives life and who is most likely to care for and nurture the child…of course I suppose that this same fact could also support our belief in a male deity because we can always say…”where did he go? And why did he leave us alone like this?” too.

Sadly however, in our day and age, the single most important indicator in determining a woman’s likelihood to live out her days in poverty is…childbirth. If a woman in this world can call herself a mother, she is more likely than not… to be poor. That in my opinion is the saddest testament to the failures of the human race that I could ever imagine…And the saddest testament to the failures of men because we are supposed to be partners with women aren’t we? So how come so many women have to go it alone, whether they choose to or not.

The abject cruelty and disdain with how many men treat women, has always been puzzling to me because all men have mothers and most men have wives and many men have sisters and daughters too…and it is not uncommon for almost all men to become angry and outraged should anyone say anything bad about their mothers, daughters sisters or wives.

Yet many if not most of these same men never seem to equate other women as being someone elses mother, daughter, sister or wife thereby causing them to treat those women with the same thoughtfulness, kndness, love and respect that all women, not just “theirs”, deserve.

Instead so many men behave so violently towards women that it is enough to boggle any god’s (male or female) mind. But that is the tragic flaw of men is it not? We see violence as a real solution to problems…and we really believe that it is…really.

And so we keep putting each other in charge and we keep coming up with the same solution…to everything…even when we are fathers we still think that it is a good idea to send our sons…or other people’s sons off to war.

I know that women send there sons to war too, but I think only because men make them. I do believe that If moms were in charge wars and violence would be harder to come by…maybe…but I only say maybe because men would still be around to point out, and insist upon,  how we need to resort to violence to get the job done.

So here’s to moms everywhere. I wish you peace and happiness and the love and respect of grateful children everywhere. And I hope you someday get the chance to  take control of the planet and have the opportunity to show us if indeed, love is the answer…to war, hunger, poverty, religion and greed…because we men still have no freakin’ ideas.

60

10 May

Well, today is my birthday (again) and it marks my 21 thousandth 900 and 15th day (who’s counting?) alive on the planet Earth (where else?) I’ve even accounted for leap days…and there have been 15 of them since 1955.

Funny how we like to count things. Remember when you were little and counting things actually was a good way to spend your time? And you used to even count to the 1/2 when it came to your years?…Ah, those were the days.

I try to count my blessings now, although in a world where complaining has become a national pastime and several (if not most) television programs, it isn’t always easy to remember to do.

When one considers that I could have been born anywhere and at any time and to anyone, (any 2) I really hit the trifecta 60 years ago…hopefully my string of incredibly good luck (no need to be overly conceited now is there?) continues.

And to everyone who reads this…thanks for the visit. Smile, have a great day and enjoy the possibilities of what still may come!… (and the improbable remarkableness of what has passed!)

And this year…Happy Mother’s day too!

Surprise quiz: (for all of you teachers out there :) How many birthdays does the average man have?

Answer: One! (of course)

Live and Let…

5 May

Two gunmen were killed this week in Texas after opening fire on a security officer outside a contest for cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, hosted by the New York-based American Freedom Defense Initiative that would award $10,000 for the best cartoon depicting the Prophet of Islam.

The event featured speeches by American Freedom Defense Initiative president Pamela Geller, who explained before the event that she planned the contest to make a stand for free speech in response to outcries and violence over drawings of Muhammad. And she said in a statement, that the shooting showed how “needed our event really was.”

So is free speech needed so that we can piss off people about their religious believes, get a security guard almost killed and then enjoy the gunning down of the two nut-bags who responded to this taunting? Because you can call it free speech if you want but that’s exactly what many of my former high school students would call their common everyday harassment and bullying of other classmates, in their efforts to avoid reprimand or punishment.

Do we really need to taunt ISIS (who soon took credit for the shootings) and 1.5 billion other Muslims around the world who believe in Islam, by making fun of Muhammad? Yes, I know they have a cadre of terrorists within their midst, who often act violently and irrationally at the drop of a crayon, but does that make 1.5 billion people wrong about their beliefs or targets for mockery?

At school, those bullies would always like to target other kids who they knew could easily be “set off” just with a little push, then they would stand back and laugh and sneer with an air of superiority about them. Of course, all any of those targeted kids would have to do then is mention one of those bully’s mothers and then the bullies would explode in a mad and angry frenzy like a bunch of whirling dervishes on speed!

Everyone and every belief system, has their frailties…don’t they?

So why can’t we just live… and let live? And use our freedoms to do some good in this world, like draw cartoons of ourselves, hold them up to the mirror and see if we start laughing? If we don’t then it’s time to pull that plank out of our own eyes and stop worrying about the spec in everyone elses.

I know somebody else said that first but…who was it again?

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