The Sickos on the Internet

“Impeach him!” “This is treason!”  “He’s colluded!”  “He’s guilty of…”

People have written these accusations on their Facebook pages.  Many of them aren’t people with whom I have a direct connection.  They are commentators on posts from people with whom I do have a direct connection.  I chose those folks.  Their “hangers-on,” I haven’t.  I am now often offended by these accusations, not because I don’t sympathize with the animus from which they have sprung, but because they are so wildly inaccurate and/or based on little to no knowledge of the terms that they are throwing around.

To call someone out for committing treason may feel good in the heat of the moment; but, to my knowledge, treason is an offense punishable by death.  If wanting one’s adversary dead is one’s desire and goal, it is little wonder that we have come to where we have in American politics, shootings on ball fields and total gridlock over life preserving, life threatening legislation.

Social Media is only helpful if it is approached with some level of responsibility.  One may spew horrible things and get away with it, but people who post such trashy, spurious, and unfounded claims ought to understand that, in some cases, they can and will be held responsible for the damage they do.  Some ‘perps’ have rightfully found themselves prosecuted for bullying when, in some cases, they have caused their victims to commit suicide.  Others surely have been sued for slander and/or libel.  This is as it should be.

The best I can do, at the moment, is to either ignore or challenge such wildly unwarranted pronouncements.  It’s either that, or I could cancel my Facebook account and save myself a lot of time and aggravation.  Whatever I decide to do, I repeatedly remind myself not to put credence or become too overwhelming by the constancy of the flow of insidious, corrosive crap I encounter daily on the web. There is a reality out there that is far from the Lemon-Lyman instigators who represent the ‘sickos’ of our society.

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Weary…oh, so weary

Apparently, chaos theory reigns on the web and, to a certain extent, with the media; for, if someone of the party you oppose sneezes, this becomes fair game for your “take.”  You may then proceed to bash them with your unbridled criticism and truly well honed insights.  You may even develop your own conspiracy theory based on your “take.”

Donald Trump, for all his antics, absurd tweets, and damage that he is inflicting on the American image and governmental operations, hit upon something with his generalized claims of “fake facts.”  It isn’t so much that the media so often gets things wrong as that many of us are so tired of being swamped with what turns out to be hyped trivia made to seem important or even supposedly critical to our existence.  Bore down on the news stories of any given day, wait a week, and you will see that what was so incredibly important then hasn’t a scintilla of significance now.  It was a flash across the sky made to appear as an atomic explosion.

This is not to deny that there aren’t truly important stories and issues.  The trick is to discern which is which.  That can become an exhausting task.  When sifting through what I am being presented, I too often find myself mumbling to myself, this is crap and turning off the radio or changing the channel.  So much of the news upon which we depend in order to be informed citizens is anything but.

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The Challenge to Preserve and Protect

Some years ago I wrote a letter to the editor of the Summit Daily News to report severe and saddening damage to a mountain’s grassy terrain that my wife and I had come upon, the result of some selfish and uncaring ATVers whose vehicles had left a scar across the face of that terrain that wouldn’t heal for many years to come.  This kind of wanton destruction, the taggings and the blatant disregard for the natural formations and beauty that comprise our national parks threatens the future of these resources for us all.

Given the cut backs in personnel and resources, there is no way that the National Park Service personnel can keep up with the torrent of visitors, some of whom are hell bent on leaving some mark on what they see, ruining the experience for those who would follow them.  Carving names on trees, etching into rock formations, creating destructive and erosive run offs by bush whacking, even chucking paper wrappers and plastic bags, with or without their dog’s feces, all lead the ultimate devastation of our parks and forests.  The money isn’t available to educate the public to “leave no trace, to make no mark, and to try to leave things better than we found them.”  We need to self educate and practice some common sense.  No one ever needs to know that we were there except ourselves through our photos and memories.

This isn’t difficult legislation we need to pass.  It doesn’t involve our spending more than our attention.  It isn’t some unachievable goal.  It is, however, proverbially, up to each of us to behave responsibly toward nature and to insure that others do so as well.  This may take some admonishing of others on our parts.  Yes, we may need to stick our necks out and say something when we see others acting out destructively.

God bless and keep the many, many volunteers who help to build our trails and engage in other projects.  It is through them and the harried Park and Forestry Service personnel that we have a fighting chance of having our national park system intact for the generations to come.  But it will take a concerted effort by all of us to make this happen.  It is a joke to say that the professionals must now do more with less.  The time has come when that trite phrase becomes witness to break down and weary capitulation.  If we are to preserve and protect, we need to be involved and vigilant.  There is some hope that we may succeed.

 

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WAIT, WHAT?

I love to debate Conservatives.  That is, when they aren’t running away from the results of their (failed) policies and from the wars they’ve either gotten us into or expanded once they’ve gotten into power.  It’s been the neo-Cons which have recently sent so many into battle with ill conceived goals and no plan for how hostilities will end.  I think that we Americans would all be happier, wealthier and safer were more thought put into the armed conflicts into which we pour our children’s blood and our treasure than simply in drawing up battle plans and yelling Geranimo!

I am always amazed how, when they run for office, Conservatives all talk about shrinking government, as if a shrunken, central government can walk away from Social Security or our Vets, of which I am one.  Yes, the Federal government could leave things like food safety and the interstate highway system, the national electricity grid and defense up to each individual state.  But, that would leave smaller states in the lurch and would bankrupt most large states.  Aside from the economics involved, it would create chaos.  More than this, it would be impractical. There are certain services that simply are better handled through a central, federal system.  Point is that there is a limit to which our federal government can be shrunk without cracks of devastating proportions beginning to appear.  Add to this one other phenomenon.  Conservatives talk about those “tax and spend Liberals, but look who has ballooned national debt each time they come to power.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you can cut taxes, especially on the richest segment in America, and you can repeatedly tell the gullible that “Trickle Down Economics” work and that, by growing the labor force and the economy, they’ll grow tax revenues which will make up for the losses.  However, aside from enriching the already rich, there, inevitably, are no upsides to these cuts except that the national debt swells, and the poor get drier.

I love to talk about the Social Weal with Conservatives, especially the ones who claim to be compassionate.  Recognizing that there certainly are limits to the benefits of any “welfare program,”  still, let’s not make cuts to Meals on Wheels, and school lunch programs.  Let’s build more schools and fewer jails, because the obverse of this is true: fewer, poorer schools usually lead to bigger, better jails…uh, which cost the public a fortune to maintain and the nation critical human potential.

I love to talk with Conservatives, but so often all they’re interested in is hearing themselves talk.  There is little if any room for dialogue and “compromise” is a word their vocabularies seem to lack.  Mostly, when I engage with the Conservatives I know, I can’t hear them because they’re shouting so loudly.

 

 

 

 

 

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Forgive?

On one level, I do not understand victims who forgive their assailants, attackers and other kinds of victimizers.  I get the fact that holding in anger against someone else is counterproductive and can lead to physical distress and ailments.  I understand that letting go of the rage might allow other energies to come to the fore in a person.  All this makes some sense.  But, to forgive and forget isn’t a Jewish thing.  It is a concept and practice which, for me, is attached to and emerges from the Christian world.  It is something that Jesus reportedly did when he was on the cross.  He forgave his persecutors and that somehow made things better…not necessarily for him, but for those who would follow him.  Still and all, when I hear of people whose loved ones have been murdered forgiving the criminal, I just can’t wrap my head around it.

Recently, I have seen people on the news who almost minutes after some horrendous thing has happened to themselves or to their loved ones have issued some statement of forgiveness.  It confuses and befuddles me.  There has been barely enough time to process and already there is this statement.

While I am quite certain that forgiving someone doesn’t exonerate them, it also doesn’t stop recrimination from creeping into the heart of the issuer.  This has got to involve some heavy duty denial.  It is to say: although I feel rage and outrage that such a thing occurred, I must not acknowledge these emotions because I have already forgiven the perpetrator.

The Jewish people collectively have never forgiven the Nazis.  Nor should we.  What they did to our people is unspeakable, and yet we have tried to speak about it for decades on now.  It is well, on this Yom Hashoa, that we give thought to and once again uncover our pain.  We can try to hold the world to a “Never Again” slogan or two…not that it has or ever will listen; but, for ourselves, the unwashed, gaping wound remains.  It is permanent.  It festers with every new mention of anti-Semitism.  It roils at the sight of a swastika.  It boils over ever anew, like some never ending fountain with grief and unbridled angst.

Christians can set aside their own senses of having been violated.  Perhaps, it does do them some good.  While I am not living on the knife edge of hatred, nor am I consumed with constant bitterness, never far from my consciousness is the memory of the Holocaust and the utter devastation it wrought on my people and my sense of general well being.  I am less trusting of the world than others.  I am less ebullient and jovial.  I respond to the world with greater intensity and passion than most others. These are born of a sense of betrayal and of our plight having been ignored.  I resonate with those who might take revenge.  It isn’t logical.  It isn’t “nice.”  And it is as far from forgiveness as I might ever want to be.  So be it.

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One Bizarre Trip

Chaplain George came to the office of the hospital chaplaincy.  He poked his head through the door and stated his request: “I need an unmarked car to help me bring one of the hostage’s mothers to the hospital.”

I immediately volunteered my V.W. van.  It was lunch time.  Neither of us had eaten.  We got in the van and headed out of Wiesbaden to the Army housing of Mainz Gunzenheim.

Chaplain George had worked with some of the Iranian hostage returnee families during their 444 day ordeal.  he had bolstered them spiritually and had counseled them to have hope and faith.  He was a Lutheran minister and a chaplain, colonel in the United States Marines.

We had to stop and ask directions a number of times.  Being from the Kaiserslautern area and, specifically, from Ramstein Air Base, I was unfamiliar with the territory.  What should have taken us no more than a half an hour wound up being a hour’s drive.  But the trip gave me an opportunity to talk with Chaplain George about the hostages and our roles as chaplains on the ward.  The time went very quickly, and our conversation probably was the primary reason that the journey took so long.  We were so engrossed in analyzing what was taking place on the ward that we did not pay close attention to where we were going.  I also especially wanted somehow to convey to my co-traveler that the returnees’ psychological conditions were delicate and that he and the USAFE Command Chaplain needed to tone down their directing and ordering these souls what they should be doing.  I compared their status to that our rape victims whose recovery depended largely on their being able to make their own decisions in order to reestablish their senses of self and of confidence in themselves and their abilities to operate in the world once again as free people.

When we came to the housing area, we had a great deal of difficulty locating the building.  as I learned, the Army tends to number its buildings as they construct them.  The one we were looking for was in a corner of the housing area, set off from buildings with similar numbers.  We finally found it. I dropped Chaplain George off because I could not park close to the stair well.  As late as we were, it was better for him to walk the short distance to the front door.  I had to drive all the way around the block to get to the driveway of this apartment complex.  It was about a half mile drive.

When I parked the van, I went into the stairwell.  The apartment, A-6, was three flights up the stairs.  I remember thinking that I hoped that I had heard my colleague correctly and that I had the right apartment number.  For the life of me, I couldn’t remember the name of the woman we were to transport back to the Wiesbaden United States Air Force hospital.

The door opened and I entered the apartment.  I thought I had come to the wrong place.  There seemed to be no furniture in the place.  Camera equipment was strewn everywhere.  At first glance, I thought I had entered an armory.  The gray-silver film and camera casings looked like ammunition containers.  Several people were seated in the living room on hardback chairs.

I asked if, indeed, I had come to the right apartment.  I was told that I had.  I was quickly introduced, but I immediately asked where the bathroom was.  I stepped into the WC and closed the door.  I was thinking to myself that I hadn’t expected this trip to be a media event.  Evidently, I had stepped into a nest of TV coverage people who had accompanied the hostage’s mother and were tracking and recording her every move.  In no way was I comfortable with this situation.  As both Chaplain George and I were officers in the United States military, neither of us was authorized or cleared to speak for the respective branches of service to which we belonged.  Furthermore, we could not speak either for the hospital or for the State Department which had come to honcho the 52 hostages’ reentry into the free world.  So, as I stepped out of the bathroom, I felt antsy about my position and anxious to carry out my role of helping this hostage mother get to her son.  I decided that I would have as little to do with the T.V. people as I could.  But, in my determination, I was very nervous and jittery.

I came out into the foyer to find that Chaplain George and his charge had already started down the stairs.  I realized that there was nothing else to do but quickly start down the stairs myself in pursuit.  I had left the sliding door to the van open, so I knew that my passengers would have no difficulty in boarding.  But, as I was making my exit from the apartment, a woman caught me.  She introduced herself.  I recognized her name from having watched national news back in the States.  She was a top level Washington correspondent.  I instantly grew more defensive not wanting to encourage any dialogue with her.  What did she want with me, anyway?  Having avoided the media people successfully for the first three days of my five at Wiesbaden, I had resolved that my mission was an example of this resolution.  I wasn’t seeking any limelight…and now, here I was being confronted by the very aspect of this assignment I had least wanted to engage with.

“Rabbi,” she started formally with a note of officiousness in her voice, “we’d like to know what kind of vehicle you’re driving.”

What a silly question, I thought.  “All you have to do is to look outside when we get downstairs,” I replied trying to get away as quickly as possible.

“No, Rabbi, we really would like to know,” she demanded again.

“Why?” I asked

“We have a camera crew at the gate of the hospital waiting to film your arrival.  Tell me, now, what kind of car are you driving?”

I turned around with a belligerent smile and looked her right in the eye. “Look, Liz,”  I said, “beware of rabbis in Germany who drive Volks Wagon vans!”

Liz smiled back at me and continued her interrogation…this time with a touch of subterfuge.  “Look, Rabbi, we’re in on this thing.  You can talk to us.  Now, which entrance did you say you were going to be using when you get back to the hospital?”

“I didn’t say,” I rejoined. “I really don’t know.  I’m not from this area and I really have no idea which entrance I’ll use.”  As I answered this time, I had reached the second floor.  It struck me that I was being questioned just to stall me so that the camera crew could get more footage of the hostage’s mother as she and Chaplain George were stepping into the van.

“Rabbi!” Liz continued, “We really need to know!”

Suddenly, I swung around on the stairs.  I faced Liz Trotta coming down behind me.  I looked up at her setting my jaw. “Liz,” I said angrily, my lower lip beginning to quiver, “I am a rabbi in the United States Air Force and I am going to do my job!”

I turned and went down the rest of the way, and climbed into the driver’s seat of the van.  I knew I was being filmed and I tried to control and neutralize my facial expression, but I was raging.  As I began to back out of the parking space, I saw in my rear view mirror that a camera man was recording us from the rear of the van.  I felt ambivalent about his safety as I backed around.  I he should get in the way, I might hit him.  All I can say now is thank God he didn’t remain where he was.

I pulled out into the main street and turned in the opposite direction from which we had come.  I had not the slightest idea where we were headed.  As Chaplain George talked to our passenger, I threaded my way into downtown Mainz Gunzenheim.  I decided to follow the autobahn  signs which read “Frankfurt.”  I was sure that we weren’t being followed.  If the signs say “Frankfurt,” I reasoned, then they must also go the opposite direction to Wiesbaden.  The last thing I wanted to tell this excited woman in the back seat was that I hadn’t any idea of how we were going to get back to the hospital.  And the thought crept into my head that the worst confrontation with the press might yet to be coming…at the hospital gate.  Then and there, as we rolled through the town’s central circle, I decided that even if I had to run the photographers down, I was going to enter via the front gate and go directly for the main entrance of the hospital.

It took another hour or so to get back to Wiesbaden. As we entered the city, I missed the one turn off from the autobahn that would have taken us by familiar roads to the hospital.  I wandered around, sometimes listening in on the conversation that was going on behind me, sometimes losing the talk in the whine of the engine.

Amazingly enough, I suddenly realized that I knew where I was.  We were now not far from the road I wanted that led to the front gate of the medical facility.  As we came up the thoroughfare, I asked Chaplain George to switch places with our guest, putting himself next to the window and her next to the aisle way.  They changed quickly, sensing the reason.  I now began explaining to her that she might be delayed in seeing her son.  All of the former hostages were undergoing extensive medical examinations and debriefings.  I didn’t want her to be so excited that a wait might cause her anymore undue anxiety.  She said that she understood. After all, it had been fourteen months since she had last had contact with him.  Another few minutes or hours wouldn’t make that much of a difference.  She really seemed to mean it.

As we rounded the corner that would bring us to the road on which the hospital was located, my heart began to pump faster.  I reached in my coat for my official State Department ward pass.  I wanted it ready and in hand.  There had been times when as many as what seemed a hundred of the press corps had clogged the area around the hospital’s main gate.  I didn’t want them to spot us and then converge on the van.

My colleague began to suggest that I stop before the gate and let them out.  They could walk along the side of the hospital and “sneak in” that way.  Having already made up my mind about how we were going to smash through, I ignored the suggestion.  Besides, I thought to myself, with the camera crew having advanced word and with the number of media people I saw swarming around the gate, somebody would spot the van and put two and two together.  On foot, they’d never get to the hospital’s entrance without being deluged.

Before us, in the curb lane, sat two old Air Force buses.  “Blue Birds,” we jokingly called them.  They are positioned just right, I thought.  I pulled slowly up behind them, checking my rear view mirror for traffic in the inner lane.  Seeing none there, I felt a sense of relief.  My plan was going to work.

I used the Blue Birds to block the view of my approach to the gaggle of people gathered at the gate.  Just as I began to pull around them, I shouted forcefully, deliberately and determinedly, “Chaplain!  Press your I.D. pass up against the window!”

I gunned the van and pulled around the buses and instantly shot into the hospital drive way and up to gate guard who was standing on the left side of the road way.  He spotted the passes and waved us through without hesitation.  I mouthed a firm, “Thank you” to him and proceeded to turn into the front circle, traveling the wrong way on this One Way entrance way.  It didn’t matter.  The way was clear.  The three of us were now laughing and joking.  “You did it with style, Rabbi.” “Yea,” I quipped, “they didn’t even know we had arrived!”

When we got out of the van, I gave my relieved passenger a warm hug and wished her well.  As she and Chaplain George went through the front door and up the stairs, I got back into the van to go and park it.  I never saw the woman again.

I do not know to this date if any of the footage from this experience was broadcast back in the States.  I haven’t heard any mention of it; so, I assume that this vignette went un-telecasted.

And well that it should not have been, in my opinion.  Recognizing that the news media people have jobs to do, and recognizing that they had played an enormous role in keeping the hostages’ ordeal and fate continuously before the American people, I wonder that this particular episode wasn’t a breach of good sense and an intrusion on a family which had suffered enough. Realizing that this hostage mother had had her way paid by the media in exchange for the story, I can’t but raise the question, given the State Department’s discouragement of these ventures, of the propriety both for the woman herself and for all the waiting families and friends who had sweated out the weeks and months of doubt and fear.

Perhaps, in all of this, I over-reacted.  Certainly, as I think back over this odyssey, I know that I was demonstrating some of the emotional strain that I, as a deeply involved, military rabbi thrust into the eye of a media storm , was feeling as I went about trying to minister to the needs of my fellow, returning Americans.  Theirs was a struggle too long endured.  Theirs was an ordeal of victimization and torture.  Theirs was a message of unity and gratitude to their homeland which never lost faith in the hope of their safe return.

Postscript:

Now they are home and safe.  Hopefully, their message will not be forgotten.  Hopefully, what they brought to each American will not be set aside now that the media has long since forgotten about them.  And, hopefully, we who worked so hard at the Wiesbaden hospital to help them reenter their lives of free will and decision making will not be disappointed in our efforts.  We each struggled with ourselves to keep our focus at a time of great stress and distraction.  We each learned about ourselves anew; for, we were under tremendous strain, with enormous commitment to duty and with humble pride in our beloved countrymen and women.

It was an experience we shall never forget.

 

 

 

 

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Looking Back After 36 Years

Time has a way both of cementing the past in one’s memory and of warping it at the same time.  What I remember of the Iranian hostage release and the days I spent on the ward of the Wiesbaden hospital is clouded to some degree by the passage of time. Nonetheless, by the end of the five days the returnees spent there, I wasn’t cslled the 53rd hostage for nothing.  I tried to accommodate my three Jewish returnees in every way I could.  I do not believe that I was able to answer satisfactorily the theological questions that were put to me at the time.  I have come to realize, however, that these demanding, painful questions were more a function of a psychological response to the torture that the former hostages endured than actual questions of or about God.  The question, “why me?” was one that was interwoven throughout the entire experience.  It is the same one that Job asked and it represented the agony of having endured grave injustice and threats to life and limb.

At the very end of the five days, just as the 52 were to be going to fly back Ft Stewart in the United States, I felt the need to have some closure with the group, the State Department and hospital personnel.  I took it upon myself to have everyone on the ward form a large circle and then, acknowledging the closure of this brief decompression the returnees had been afforded, offered prayers for their safe return to the U.S.. Thereafter, we all traveled to Rhein-Main Air Base, from which the group would depart.

When I returned to Ramstein, I continued to raise an issue with the command chaplain until I nearly got myself into trouble.  I had watched as the USAFE Command Chaplain had literally walked over the hospital chaplain, Father Lewis, and had taken over the reception of the former hostages.  It may have been his right to do so, but I felt that he had overstepped himself, making decisions that ought to have been left to the hospital chaplain.  In one such instance, as I have written about elsewhere, he and Chaplain George Evans so overstepped themselves, they caused the State Department to blocked the chaplains from working with the returnees.  By not coordinating, by exercising more authority though less understanding than they actually had, they truly screwed things up for the chaplain team for more than a few hours.

Initially I had thought that the last things that these former hostages needed was more time from their loved than  they had already endured.  In fact, I have come to understand that they might well have benefited from spending more time in semi-isolation from them and the rest of the world.  I doubt that they were ready for the onslaught of media attention they were to receive upon their returns home.  I know that many of their marriages broke up in the months and years that followed.  This is not uncommon after such ordeals.  However, I do not know the extent that they and their families were given access to counseling and support.  On the heels of such stress for both themselves and their loved one and after so much time had elapsed, there were bound to be adjustment issues.  And there were.

Upon my return to Ramstein, I had to pack up again immediately and head for a TDY to Spangdahlem AB, to luncheon to which I would be late in arriving.  Neither my wife nor the folks at the Air Base know the intensity of the experience I had just had, and while I didn’t have time until later to explain it to my wife, I did give a short account to the Jews of Spangdahlem who had come to the lunch gathering.

Lastly, I would comment about the press response to the hostage return.  It was chaotic and extremely demanding.  For certain, the American public was eager for any information about the returnees.  It was the kind of frenzy that made going to the Wiesbaden hospital and getting by the gaggle a chore.  Elsewhere I have written about my encounter with Liz Trotta.  She was exceptionally pushy and quite insensitive in her effort to get “the story.”  Perhaps it was this encounter with her that has framed my impression of the media, although it is hardly fair of me to extrapolate this way.  Still, my encounter with her made me angry and defensive.  It also frightened and threatened me because, as an Air Force member, I had had no clearance to speak to the press.  That she continued to pressure me when I clearly had attempted to ward her off, only served to make me more hostile to her purposes.  That experience has remained with me in my wary dealings with the media to this day.

 

 

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