Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Heroes and Posters

On February 15, 2008, WorldNetDaily published an article with this headline and sub:
Che Guevara flag featured in Obama campaign office
Candidate attracts 'people who think mass murderers are romantic revolutionaries'

FOXNEWS picked it up and the political tirades of the 1960s were reborn, until today, when all the news blurt that Fidel Castro has resigned. And so, we are all drawn back some 50 years to another time, another hatred that still sets us apart. We wonder what difference time makes, after all, in dividing people into victors and losers, each side claiming heroes of their own, of course and regardless. And yet and yet. Nevertheless.

The whole aura of heroes has been gilded and muddled since man first began to fight man. We think of Alexander the Great as an early western hero, but those he defeated in the Middle East suffer still. Genghis Khan scared the stuff of our European forebears, but might rank even, or a close second, with Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin as a hero to his people. Audie Murphy won fame and got in the movies. Good, clean American kid who stood up to them Nazis. And we raved over Doolittle's raid on Tokyo, until some of us were sent in the 1950s to teach in Japan and heard a different story.  

El Che Guevara is to many, Americans as well as Cubans, a legitimate hero.  Check him out in Wikipedia, which ends with this, "Time Magazine in 1999 named Ernesto "Che" Guevara one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century under the heading of 'heroes and icons.' " If Che Guevara is to be deemed unworthy of being called "hero,"whether then or now, does that make a "hero" out of Cuba's dictator General Fulgencio Batista, whom he and Fidel overthrew?

Who are our heroes now? Yesterday, we celebrated Presidents' Day, a lumping of birthdays into one, and heard much good stuff about George Washington - February 22 - and Abraham Lincoln – February 12. Even Jesuits have their own heroes: Pedro Arrupe, and an old soldier, name of Inigo of Loyola. We look up to heroes as lords, for they are not just ordinary men and women. When it comes to designating heroes and keeping their mementoes on our walls, though, not all would agree. Just as the Lord said about those trying to enter the kingdom by calling him "Lord, Lord."

When I stopped to think about heroes, a memory popped up of a feisty session years ago at our dinner table with our four sons of  elementary school age. We were talking about courage and bravery and heroes, prompted by some news item in the paper. It might even have been El Che's capture and summary execution in 1967 in Bolivia, with the support of the CIA and U.S. Special Forces. To keep these thoughts balanced and fend off the expected flaming charge, "Kelly, you damned bleeding liberal,"  our youngest son later joined Special Forces and served for years in their Reserves. Keith, second son, ended that hot and heavy dinner talk, when he got exasperated about the people being picked out as heroes and blurted out, "Who's  the bravest man who ever lived?" The rest of us tossed out some names of favorites. With the wisdom of the young, Keith said, "Nope. The bravest man who ever lived was the first man who dared to milk a cow."

As for "mass murderers  as romantic revolutionaries," I think of the Nazi's Blitzkrieg, Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, -- the four centuries of The Crusades, too --  and then I think of the pattern bombing of Germany, and my life in Tokyo for three years,  where I saw the rebuilt residential sections of the city, which had been encircled with incendiary bombs to burn completely into the center of the circle and vanish, and stared up at the big buildings downtown, spared to save them for the occupation forces. I sat several times on the floor of our scholastic's rec room at the feet of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, listening to him share what happened that day in Hiroshima, when he heard the sound of a mushroom cloud and rode his bicycle straight into town to help whoever survived the madness of such easy slaughter. At Sophia Univerty's faculty residence, I lived with young German Jesuits who had fought in the Battle of the Bulge. I marvelled at the tales of older European Jesuits, how they shovelled off incendiary bombs from B-29s, to save the university.

In the current years of the Bush Administration, I have often gone down in deep moments of utter frustration and near despair. Even now, I think of our President and Vice President calling their preemptive strike in the Middle East a "Just War."My poor rational mind is befuddled whether the phrase, "The war on terror," is but an oxymoron, with meaning. And that, of course, is an oxymoron itself, isn't it? Once I took the phrase, "It all depends on whose ox is being gored," and changed it to: "It all depends on whose gore is being oxed." We are the same. And yet we differ. We have our own heroes, some mass murderers, some romantic revolutionaries.

And El Che is long dead, but his posters still hang on walls.


We adore our heroes 'n have to say

That it's OK to fume or foam,

Or put up  a poster,  say of Che,

High on the wall in a room at home.


But first we remove the faded ones

Of long ago, like John Paul Jones,

Even those of the Napoleons,

To get rid of history's famous clones.


In order to fight in modern times,

We  have to be politically correct.

Else our wars are filled with crimes,

Our righteous causes must  be wrecked.


Unless we stand tall on the left,

We can't beat neocons  from the right,

For the center is usually bereft

Of heroes with any will to fight.


We  take care then of whom we choose

To follow  in our life's pursuit,

For  those out there with different views

Will claim  we are  simply not astute.


That's why we forget the heroes of yore,

Revolutionaries just don't survive,

Replaced by  those who won the war.

Not even El Che could stay alive.




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