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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

At Last, a Possible Peace Dividend

I remember talking with the late and great Congressman Sam Gibbons soon after the Vietnam War ended.  We were hopeful that the huge amount of public funds spent on that futile adventure now could be used domestically.  Sam – who had parachuted into Nazi-occupied Normandy during World War II -- was a true patriot and a true promoter of education.  He was not only the father of our now prestigious University of South Florida, he also was the nationwide father of Head Start --- a project that worked and that needs investment again.


Now we have another shot at a peace dividend.  We have spent trillions of dollars in a hopeless war in Afghanistan, and like the Vietnam War, that money is gone.  One of the crucial distinctions between those wars, though, is that we are acknowledging that we did not achieve our goal of a democracy in Afghanistan.  Last week, while the government we were supporting fled the capital of Kabul, helicopters evacuated the last Americans from our embassy.  This was the second major losing war of my adulthood, and I am sad.  There also are important differences, though, and as always, lessons to be learned.


First of all, even though photographs showed people desperate to climb onto helicopters departing Saigon, most Americans never really accepted the fact that we lost in Vietnam.  The media at that time was so complicit with "patriotism" that the news was shaped as if this abject defeat was merely a setback.  The same had been true in Korea twenty years earlier.  Combining the two means that about 100,000 Americans lost their lives in "postwar" Asia, propping up corrupt governments whose only virtue was that they averred to be anti-communist. 


Almost no one protested the Korean War in the 1950s, as it was too close to the justifiable World War II of the 1940s.  Little was written into the history books about our unsuccessful invasion of Cuba in the 1960s, and even during the Vietnam War of the 1970s, media attention focused on those who objected to the war more than on the military and diplomatic leaders responsible for its failure.  There are lots of problems with communication today, but at least the media no longer acts as a tool of the government.  Even "patriots" understand that we are quitting the twenty-year-old Afghanistan battle without winning. 




Another important difference between Vietnam and Afghanistan is that Democrat Joe Biden is a straight-shooter who doesn't deny reality in the way that Republican Richard Nixon did.  I'll even give credit to Donald Trump, who opened the way to ending the latest war, which began with the Bush/Cheney administration.  Our serious goal, capturing Osama bin Laden and others who plotted the 9/11 attacks, was achieved under Barack Obama.  The war should have ended then.  That it didn't is due to the power of the Pentagon and its many heavy-hitting contractors.  They wrap their arguments for more money in the flag and wield tremendous political influence.  Congress writes the budgets, and it kept shoveling billions and billions into Afghanistan. 


Going back to the Vietnam era, Hubby was assigned to the headquarters of the Army Security Agency in Washington.  I remember sitting in the Officers Club and hearing (often drunken) professional soldiers mockingly inquire what they would do if peace broke out.  I didn't feel the same, as I had lowly family and friends who had been drafted – and some friends who went to Canada rather than fight this immoral war.  I kept quiet for Hubby's sake, but I had long suspected that we would lose. 


When I was in the sixth grade, "My Weekly Reader" reported on the French abandoning their colonies in what then was called French Indochina.  To a childish me, it seemed that the newly restored nations of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos had as much right to independence as Americans had in 1776.  Time passed, and I was in high school when my dear brother-in-law, an Army pilot, did the first of his four tours in Vietnam.  I tried to explain to my family why I thought this war was a mistake, but met only anger. 


Decades later, I noticed when the Russians gave up on conquering Afghanistan, but once again, America's military thought it could do what France and Russia had been unable to do.  At least no one was drafted for the Afghanistan war.  While 50,000 died in Vietnam – most of them young male draftees -- only about 2,500 died in the recent war, and all were volunteers.  But the trillions of dollars never will be recovered, and the infrastructure that we generously built will be used by the Taliban.  It may take the country back to its ultra-conservative days, when women couldn't leave their homes, let alone be educated and hold paying jobs.  The war was a clash between western liberalism and middle-eastern theocracy, and the clerics' supporters won. 


I wish that I could do something for the liberal victims, but I think that will have to come from themselves.  If women develop the will, they can win the ideological battle by standing up to the misogynistic Taliban.  As wives, sisters, and especially mothers, they can influence their own futures; they can refuse to produce another generation of warriors.  And meanwhile, we can have a peace dividend to spend on our own children.




·      Ron DeSantis and his profiteering pals continue their assault on public schools by enticing parents with tuition money if the parents believe that their kid has been bullied.  You should check out the websites of some of these off-the-grid schools: they are blatant about exploiting the public trust for self-interest.  But my biggest objection is that this taxpayer-funded giveaway is titled "Hope Scholarships."  The real Hope Scholarships were created three decades ago by President Bill Clinton, who was from Hope, Arkansas, and they were aimed at higher education.  I was an HCC trustee then, and DeSantis was a boy.  I resent his use of the term because it is the opposite of what was intended:  instead of hope for struggling students, these "scholarships" provide cover for elitists to send their children to exclusionary schools.

·      In the short distance between the interstate and the corner of Dale Mabry and Kennedy, I noticed five – FIVE – young white men who seemed entirely able-bodied and yet were begging.  I've been sympathetic to such in the past, when times truly were hard, but not now when every other business has a "help wanted" sign.  And these guys were aggressive, walking between traffic lanes and hassling drivers at their windows.  This is illegal, and I hope Mayor Jane and the TPD get on them. 

·      Moreover, what is wrong with young men these days?  No one in my father's generation would have stood in traffic to beg.  Instead, the massive numbers of unemployed men during the Great Depression knocked on kitchen doors and offered to do some work in exchange for a meal.  And what ever happened to programs to counter "deadbeat dads?"  When Democrat Lawton Childs was governor, officials enforced child-support orders.  Now that "law and order" Republicans are in charge, no one seems to care.  Too many of our young men seem to be akin to the Taliban in their disregard for others.

·      Do you remember the episode of "All in the Family" when Archie announced that there were no African Americans in America until Eleanor Roosevelt discovered them?  I howled with laughter at his ignorance, but lately a thought occurred of my similar ignorance.  Growing up in the Arkansas Ozarks, we were just a few hundred miles from the bayous of Louisiana – but the cultures are very different, and I never knew of Cajuns until I was in college.  Such ignorance is shameful, and I trust that increased diversity in school curricula is correcting it.

·      I'm on a committee committed to improving mental health, and I discovered that younger people seem to be unaware of the reforms we made in that area during the changeful days of the 1970s.  Progressive Democrats dominated the legislature then, and the late Representative George Sheldon, a Plant City native, carried almost every bill related to social services.  After this ZOOM meeting, I sent an e-mail to committee members about George and especially about the buttons he printed for us to wear around the capitol:  "Support mental health or I'll kill you."




And, at last, some people at the highest level of the United Nations are doing something about it.  Thinking about climate change makes me sad because my oldest brother, who died last fall, was a denier.  His view of the Earth was static:  God created it about 6,000 years ago, and except for Noah's flood, nothing has changed.  Or will change.  It is especially sad because his oldest grandchild is a climate activist, so we held our tongues at family gatherings.  Even sadder, this grandchild lives in northern California where wildfires rage and has a baby who cannot breathe outside of air conditioning. 


My brother lived in Minnesota and hated hot weather, so this summer of record-breaking heat all over the globe would have been especially difficult for him.  Nor would have he wanted to see the day when all television meteorologists accept the reality of climate change.  But it's also notable that this change has occurred quickly:  Rick Scott was Florida's governor until just last year, and I hope you remember that he banned state employees from using the term.


Also re weather, if I get physically strong enough to garden again, I'm going to revamp my yard with tropicals, as I no longer am successful with plants that need a bit of cold.  I used to have hydrangeas and daylilies like those that grow up north, but the lilies produced only a few measly flowers this year, while the hydrangea shrubs are completely dead.  And I know this isn't just me.  I made a point of watching for flowers I knew were in other people's yards, but they aren't there anymore.  Even azaleas, roses, and poinsettias aren't what they were in the past.  It will be orchids and bromeliads in the future, whether I like that or not.



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