Paul Elisha | WAMC

Paul Elisha

Commentator and Host, Poetry Forum

Ways to Connect

This commentary first aired on November 6, 2012.

Ever since the first American hostages of church-state confederacy resolved to sever themselves from authoritarian domination by coalitions of royalty and its religious authenticators, self-styled advocates have attempted to influence the form of our newly-won freedom.  Prompted by profit oriented off-shoots of the original order, they have invariably prodded their quarry to cede autonomy for the assurance of corporate stability and significance.  Their lucre-amplified logic?  Fiduciary federation provides the most dependable source of freedom.  What they’ve blithely and intentionally overlooked was who controls the combination to the lock on the cash box.

Watching Public Television’s recent National Memorial Day observance, that made reference to the awe-inspiring sacrifice of World War II veterans, in which this commentator was a participant for nearly three years of combat, one was of course, struck by the sheer immensity in numbers of those affected, both as casualties and hapless victims.  The format evoked multiple emotions of sorrow and pride.  But the sheer scope of projection still left this viewer wanting.  The story of America’s current world-wide involvement has increased the scope of our military might.  As the observance reached a climactic intensity, this viewer wondered at the lack of ardor in the on-site audience of thousands, ostensibly gathered to bear proud witness and emotional acclaim.  As past military leaders and those of government joined current commanders and leaders, to acknowledge fealty to a sacred debt, this veteran was aware of an immense expression of silence…and a vexing and voiceless question:  How and when will all who demand and who must respond to such a huge national sacrifice speak the single missing word: “Enough!?” and pledge an end to the senseless slaughter that maims and emasculates our most precious resource: America’s families and their members?

Carl Sandburgh, the great American pundit/poet and Lincoln biographer coined a phrase: “The past is a bucket of ashes,” which came to mind on reading of Marco Rubio’s decision, to run for the U.S. Presidency, in the next national election, in 2016.  As the New York Times noted, Rubio stressed his youth, with a verbal swipe at “leaders of the past,” and declared generational war, which is the last thing our nation needs, at this crucial moment in its all-too-tenuous-history, as a people’s democracy.  If ill-will and insult are the sum of the character medicines we can bring to bear on the growing virus of our disunity, then our future as an exemplar of its opposite is in serious question.  It also lends little caustic comfort to admit that our own lack of persistence has added more heft to its impetus.  The most immediate effect of this appears to be a small stampede by self-certified savants, quick to avert any hint of evidence that Rubio’s rush to impertinence against elders might reveal his latent lack of confidence in traits, still tinged with smart-aleck snippets of adolescent angst.

Since this commentary was aired, nearly a year ago, last June, the hoodlums in ‘The People: Yes’ poems of Carl Sandburg, have become emboldened.  The House-Divided, that Lincoln warned against, has become an American sanctuary…, a refuge for rowdies.  A hooligan hierarchy has infested it, while hard-pressed defenders of freedom waffle over how and when to do what they know they must.  This pundit’s re-edited update is offered, now, in the ardent hope that it might help.

Probably nothing has roiled the hoped-for response to Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s unprecedented address to the joint houses of The U.S. Congress, like the arrival on-scene and subsequent pained demeanor, of Nobel Peace-Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel.  The coincidental arrival of an unanticipated Spring snow storm also provided excuses for the large number of members in both houses, who shunned the Prime Minister’s highly controversial speech, arranged by House Speaker Boehner, without any previous notice to President Obama; a glaring and intentional insult.

President Barack Obama delivered his two thousand/fifteen – State Of The Union – Address to a Joint Session of Congress, in which victorious mid-term Republicans were determined to make even his concession of this reality a moment of impotence, best kept to him-self.  His refusal to accept this belittling has set all else that follows in a somber sense of gridlock.  Seemingly impelled by this impetus, House Speaker Boener unceremoniously announced that he had invoked a ‘Joint Session’ of Congress, which he’d invited Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to address.  This apparent insult on Speaker Boener’s part may also be more seriously seen as an effort to force the President into an embarrassingly impossible position, between two devilishly difficult political choices.  Favoring liberal-Jewish-American Democrats over strongly-pro-Netanyahu conservatives (or vice-versa), is surely bound to provoke the ire of those with seemingly less clout.

On the eve of the most difficult and demanding chapter in this democratic republic’s history of having to mount and maintain military defenses of absolute necessity, it’s distressing to learn that those responsible for providing the financial support , our defenders can’t do without, are trying to force them to do it, ‘on the cheap.’  What this really represents, as outlined in a recent issue of the New York Times, amounts to a phony alibi for breaking a vow made to all combat veterans, who’ve literally put their lives at risk for our nation, that no matter the cost, funds needed to treat their resultant disabilities would be found and allocated, to restore their limbs and lives to reasonable levels of independence.

On this One-Hundreth anniversary of the ‘Yuletide Peace, undeclared but observed by ordinary soldiers on both sides of the field of slaughter, in World War I, this grizzled but grateful, WWII Veteran turned ‘Pundit,’ thought it an apt time to examine our progress toward a peaceful and permissive world or the lack of one…, and try to fathom, why not?

 In frequent past circumstances, this currently dispirited paladin was moved to remind certain ‘Second Amendment’ advocates (who’ve had what more of us should believe are misdirected objectives), about its starkly restrictive preamble.  Few of them seem, either to have read and /or correctly interpreted it.  In his first inaugural address, after being elected the third American President, in 1801, Thomas Jefferson said that the sum of a good government is to restrain its citizens….”from injuring one another.” He said this was necessary, “… close the circle of our felicities.”

Hard to believe, ours is a nation literally founded on a principle of church/state separation, when most current political emphasis, especially that of evangelically driven single minded, religionist zealots, seems obsessively focused on the opposite.  As this commentator noted in a two-thousand twelve essay, it was not hostility to Christianity that moved our founders to downplay it, it was the need to ensure religious neutrality.  The Treaty of Tripoli, an agreement between the United States and the Muslim Region of North Africa, signed in 1797, by then President George Washington and approved by the Senate, under John Adams, states flatly: “The Government of The United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion.”

There’s no denying the heat of resentment that prodded America’s colonial rebellion to its ultimate break with British rule and the formation of a new system of governance, controlled and administered by an elected body of its citizens.  In retrospect, though, with the passage of several centuries for calmer contemplation, this should not condemn every aspect of the British system to infamy and avoidance.  In fact, a thorough study of our current system of governance shows it lacking a mode of service, not completely available within our three traditional branches of government, into which it’s divided.  Closer scrutiny in fact reveals a glaring need for its addition.  A management branch could re-revolutionize our current system of three governmental branches, all of which are held hostage to the insidious influence of a continuous cycle of elective politics.

From the time of its purported discovery, this land’s status as a welcome destination for immigrants has been clouded in controversy.  Its discovery, so-called, was preceded by a century and a half of episodic probes by Norsemen, in open boats, who leap-frog-ed down the Greenland coast leaving outposts of free-spirited Vikings, to warrant what their curiosity had found but their ancestral natures had left un-peopled.

Of all our country’s national observances, Veterans’ Day has always had a special importance, because wars have touched so many American lives, since the first Revolution, that changed our colonial-vassal status to an independent federated democratic republic, the continuity of which depends on all of its citizens.  That continuity has been tested too often, at increasing costs in money, materials, and precious human resources, with depressing signs of higher costs to come.  Sadly, the partisan pride at having survived the horror that claimed and maimed so many of their comrades has also compelled many combat veterans to be silent about the terrible dangers they escaped.  Prodded by the prospect of greater, more painful sacrifice, combat veterans who’ve served in our armed forces should raise their voices against war, as a sequential ‘next-step,’ in any negotiated effort to solve a difficulty or a perceived threat by anyone.  In our past service, what we WWII veterans saw of combat turned many of us into ‘soldiers against war!’

In the year 1900, in what this pundit believes to be one of the most cogent and powerful essays, Theodore Roosevelt claimed that no one is justified in doing evil for reasons of expedience.  Alas, in little more than a century later, expedience is fueling a return to the most vicious and inhumane practices of this self-proclaimed ‘democratic republic’s’ self-scarred history, in a succession of prejudicial efforts, to deny African-Americans and others of similar color, access to the civil rights ostensibly enjoyed by everyone else.  Conservative Republican officials and others of their ilk, at every level of government, from local through county, state and federal, are eagerly involved in this hateful denial, made even more detestable by their own outspoken claims of innocent ignorance.

On February 18th, 1860, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a feminist founder of the first Woman’s Suffrage Congress, in the United States, said this in a speech to members of the New York State Legislature: “The prejudice against color, of which we hear so much, is no stronger than that against sex.  It is produced by the same cause,…..The Negro’s skin and the woman’s sex are both prima facie evidence that they were intended to be in subjection to the white Saxon man.”

From the time of the American colonies’ declaration of independence from the Monarch-led Empire of Great Britain (on July 4, 1776), to the establishment of a democratic republic, with its first President, a Congress, Senate, unfinished draft of an as yet incomplete and un-adopted Constitution, nearly two decades would elapse. Still, their absolute belief in the certitude of their enterprise induced them to announce it to a then uninitiated assortment of nations.

We have come to that point in our nationhood, where our cohesion is at serious risk.  To paraphrase John Dunne, no one of us is an island, entire to itself; everyone is a part of the main, because we are all involved in humankind.  He was right, because in Latin, ‘homo’ translates as a male or female person or fellow creature.  Yet, despite all of our inclusive rhetoric, there are still those among us, who would reverse the democratic process in this fragile democracy to the most despicable meaning of “State’s Rights,” in which those of color are excluded and denied inclusion, except as sub-human members of the work-herd, as the ‘State’s-Right’ politicos once considered them.

As the present global mind-set continues to dominate the American psyche, from the acme of political policy to many ordinary areas of doing business, this commentator calls “Time-Out!”, for a look at where we are, how we got here, what it’s cost us and what our future portends. As the self-appointed market managers of the so-called democratic (small-d) idiom, we seem to have become habituated to catch-phrases that create a wide latitude of definition and too much room for inexactitude: like “National Destiny” and “Spheres of Interest;” both of which help to harbor inhospitable hanky-panky for the uncontrolled capture of money and power.

Those prejudiced political power brokers, now trying to hang a liturgical lock on this nation’s spiritual inception, as a Christian entity, had best beware of history’s recurrent habit of self-correction…much like proof that appears to be surfacing, now. For starters, let’s not forget the Native American tribes who were here, when the Holy-Roller "conversionists" first set out to "civilize" the “savages” who helped them survive the rigors of this untamed land, they’d come to conquer.  The Amerinds’ own religion taught them to respect and preserve what nature had provided but their fortune-hunting Christian conquerors were determined to despoil. One hesitates to contradict historic errors that have (for some) become part wish-prejudiced and nationally accepted misstatements…but when facts surface, despite repetition to the contrary, truthful contradiction must intercede, like it or not.

I’ve visited this issue earlier; even quoted Teddy Roosevelt’s warning, that “…the one absolute certainty of bringing this nation to ruin, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.”  I might have left the matter there, if the “This is a Christian nation!...” claque hadn’t decided to intensify their contention several decibels louder than before.  What seems to have gotten them steamed up now,  is a complaint from a Jewish person and an Atheist, both of whom took issue over having to sit through public prayer sessions before their Town Council’s meetings (the council being an all-Christian one) and pushed their complaint all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Court, citing other instances of pre-meeting prayer by higher government units, allowed as how something similar, at the local level, wouldn’t be that bad to sit through and said so in writing, which emboldened the ‘pro-Christian-Nation choir’ to add heft to their chant.

In the realm of recorded religious history, regardless of geographic location or form of belief, disagreements that evolve into armed violence mostly have been the result of familial differences, fuelled by ill defined loyalty and interference by meddlesome outsiders.  These invariably have led to blood feuds, unresolved to this day.  Those who interpose themselves as mediators, well meaning or not, are doomed to certain and expensive failure.

In the past week, an important event in theatrical history celebrated an even more crucial event in our nation’s political history, when Gerald Rafshoon and Lawrence Wright (confidante and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright) presented “Camp David,” a dramatization of the thirteen volatile days of intense debate that produced the first negotiated agreement on a peace initiative between Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Menachem Begin;  the most historically vital achievement of the Carter Presidency.

Those who would pillory our current President with biased blame for every current ill, to which their own calculated intransigence has contributed, are at odds with political history.  Before they finagle with falsehood and fabricate pure political fiction, to capture unworthy vindication by voters, they should consult the 1978 edition of a tiny text, this commentator still finds invaluable.  It’s titled “American History At A Glance.”  This is a brief quote from Chapter 14, titled: “The Harding Administration.”

In the strange reversal of circumstances that have taken place since the Sochyi Olympics seemed to have breathed new vitality into a lifeless Soviet cadaver, this commentator intuits and fears the possible return to times we all could and should have done without.

The current saga being played out by Vladimir Putin, the former spy-master and head of the Soviet Secret Police, before declaring himself Executive In Chief of the on-again-off-again Russian Democracy, with its on-again-off-again Presidency-cum-Premiership, puts this ancient, moss-back memorialist in mind of some simple truths, it might be helpful or hurtful but important to bear in mind, never-the-less.

Recent announcements by regional theaters and theatrical companies, in New York’s Capital District and in nearby New England, reveal a spate of performances by Broadway road-shows and locally arranged productions of renowned theatrical works of the past.  Their goals, to make today’s younger audiences familiar with them, thus keep them historically alive.  The idea, although rooted in increased audiences and revenues, is an entirely worthy one.  So much so, it put this elderly commentator on the scent of an appropriate vehicle to familiarize young people with historic political events, worthy of remembrance, through retelling by ethical narrators.  Thus providing better informed citizens, should the same situations occur again, in the future.

There’s been much angst expressed by parents of America’s children and youth, of late, about the rapid erosion of funds and services, to provide education needed to prepare them for appropriate and gainfully competitive adulthood.  There’s also been a mounting volume of critical carping and castigation by those in government, responsible for providing the funds necessary to achieve adequate levels of education and warnings of dire consequence, from those invested with the onus to plan and produce educational services at superior levels of educational accomplishment, from the President and throughout his executive departments.

Back before the phenomenon called “Social Media” Ping-ponged anyone and everyone’s personal plaints as gospel, across a fact-hungry universe, H.G. Wells declared: “Lies are the mortar that bind the savage individual into the social masonry.”  He may have been right but what about truth?  What’s become of it in this mélange of personal prerogative presentations, unleashed and unlicensed?

For those of us with multi-generational and still functioning memories, except for techno-centric system difficulties, there’s little to be optimistic about with respect to the present state of governance at just about every level, in these apparently ‘disunited states of America’.  For this archaic member of the so-called “Greatest Generation,” time seems to have U-turned into reverse mode, by more than ninety years.  Although it had backed away from the League of Nations and World Court, The U.S. in 1921 (the year before this commentator was born) convened separate conferences on limiting naval tonnage and non-use of asphyxiating gasses; to which most nations agreed.  The U.S. avoided signing a commitment against the use of armed force, without congressional approval, which somehow seems not to have been given.

In a recent issue of the ‘American Poetry Review,’ a revered teacher of this commentator wrote of the proclivity of many notable poets for revising their work, after finding imperfections.  These, according to one anthropologist, were mischievously inserted by spirits of Nordic origin, to bedevil the poets into re-examinations.  In recent years, he claimed, there were fewer of these episodes, because poets had stopped believing in the spirits.  A dedicated poet, at heart, this commentator has found several verses among his own published works that might well benefit from such attention; not so much the result of folkloric mischief but changing times and ideas, that compel public attention.  This explains the following revision of several pertinent poems, now set in combined form and revised from (“SWASH” by Paul Elisha):