Help the Bombardier! I’m the Bombardier!
The Roman Republic was founded in 510 b.c., and was dissolved in 27 b.c. That’s so long ago that Christ lived his entire life during the Roman Empire. It isn’t easy keeping a republic. Ironically, they tend to fail into a state that is perceived to be a more powerful state. When the Roman Republic was dissolved there was not another republic on Earth until the United States in 1776.
One of my comments on my previous post, and how it is perceived got me thinking this morning about perceptions, history, and current events. The insurrection at the Capitol on Wednesday has many here in the United States and around the world trying to process and understand what actually happened. Perceptions seem to vary widely at this point, just four days later. So, in the morning quiet this morning, wife still asleep, dogs still asleep, and nothing but a hug of hot coffee, and the steam rising off of it, my mind drifted back to my favorite History teacher from high school, Marvin Dress. Mr Dress was a tall man with a formal bearing. He had a booming baritone voice, and operatic training. Mr Dress never sat during our classes, except for when we took exams. During his lectures, he stood and used the full potential of his voice.
Mr Dress loved History, and it was infectious. As he gave his lectures, he would most frequently stand with one foot up on a desk, and one on the floor. He would lean and bellow his lesson, with one hand tucked into his suit vest. Mr Dress wore a 3-piece suit to every class. My high school teacher came to mind today because I went searching for a lesson that he used to teach us. It was something about a “historical equation.” It stated that when societies are presented with problems they eventually try solutions. Those solutions result in a ‘historical result.’ Then sometime later in history a similar historical problem arises. Often similar solutions are attempted. They result in ‘similar historical results.’ In order to keep history from swinging back and forth like a pendulum, creativity must be attempted. To change the patterns, when similar problems present themselves, societies must attempt different solutions, which hopefully result in different historical results.
Often when I share some experience, I hope that some of you have read some of the books, or have seen some of the films from which I draw allusions. My comment earlier about Methodists came from Blazing Saddles. At one point, Harvey Korman, playing the role of Hadley Lamar runs off a list of “deplorables”, if you will, as recruits to storm the fictional town of Rock Ridge. This time, this morning, the film “Catch-22” and Ice Cube come to mind. Again, this morning I am pondering perceptions about what is the state of our republic domestically, and abroad. If you have seen “Catch-22”, or if you have read it, you may recall the conversation between Nately and the old man. The old man is a 107 year old Italian in the town where Nately, a 19 year old bombardier in the United States Air Corps, (the precursor to the United States Air Force, in existence between 1926 and 1947).
If you have not read “Catch-22”, and most especially, if you have not seen the film, now is a particularly good time to see it. On the most superficial level, it is a hilarious farce. While on a deeper level, it is a fascinating, serious examination of nations, nationalism, militarism, and human life in competition with organizations created by humans. The conversation between 19 year old Nately and the 107 year old man is a fascinating examination of perspectives between a naive youth, and perceptions of power, and the wise old man, and his wisdom gained in his very long life. Not only are things not what they seem to be, they may actually be quite the opposite. As a sample, the old man explains to Nately that Italy is winning WWII by having been conquered and occupied by the Germans, and then the Americans, and conversely the United States is proceeding toward its eventual dissolution by being the conqueror.
It is like the breach and temporary takeover of the Capitol on January 6th. Young men and women laid siege in a temporary victory, which resulted later in what will likely be a profound defeat. Young politicians cheered the insurrectionist on in a move that was intended to propel their careers to greater heights. Days later it is being contemplated whether they should resign from their offices. Today, one young woman, an Air Force veteran who climbed through a window in the first wave of a siege was shot and killed. 83 others are sitting in jail cells in various states, and the round up continues.
Watching the events unfold on television leave me feeling in a very one-sided perspective. I am feeling more and more like the old man in Catch-22. Politics aside, I find myself telling those young people (some older), that they should be nowhere near what was going on. If on the sidewalk outside, I would say, get out of here. Don’t be seen here. Don’t associate with those people. If on the stairs of the Capitol, I would say, you’ve already broken the law. The police had a line, and you are over it. Go back now, and save yourself from legal jeopardy. If inside the building I’d say, you’re in an immediate danger now. It has gone beyond legal jeopardy. There will likely be a uniformed response soon, and you are trapped inside. (Little did I know that the President was preventing a uniformed response at this time). And then the real destruction began.
Once the news showed the attempt at breaching the Speaker’s suite of offices, I began to think of the riots in Los Angeles when I was a police officer. Back then, I was closer to Nately’s age, but had a dual perspective between Nately’s and the old man’s. Not only was it my job to keep the peace, but I was also a young Black man. Looking back at how issues had been addressed historically to my people personally, I had one view, and looking at my professional responsibility, I had another.
Now, as this relates to hoping some of you have seen or read some of the literature about which I make allusions, this next one will be something that likely none to you are familiar with. I find it interesting though, so, here goes.
Watching one young man carry the Speaker’s podium, and pieces of the sign from the wall designating the Speaker’s suit of offices, I thought to myself, “they are tearing that motherfucker up.” I laughed to myself because I recalled that Ice Cube had a song by that exact title, referring to the riots in L.A. The fascinating thing about this allusion is that the force of nihilism in our current events at the Capitol is the ostensible force of conservatism in our society presently, the GOP. In order to save the village, they seem to feel that it needed to be destroyed. The lyrics in Ice Cube’s song say, “to get some respect we had to tear this motherfucker up…”. It is almost iambic pentameter. When you hear the loop of the double bass, you can easily feel yourself bobbing your head to the rhythm. Conversely, much of the message is…”deplorable.” There is a measure of anti-semitism in it. Ice Cube had been accused of anti- semitism previously, and he denies it, but this song is not the best argument for humanitarianism. State destruction rarely is.
Being Black in this country, my country, has some complex conflicts. This country and this society has been a force in the world of some of the worst things to happen to Black and brown people in recorded history. At the same time, the principles of self determination and freedom which we claim to value from our founding documents are the best bet for Black and brown people in recorded history. We have a conflicted position of working to heal deep wounds in a society that can border on criminal, while being devoted to preserving it. It is a complex perspective that neither rioters nor insurrectionist share.
If you have the courage, you should give Ice Cube a listen. Again, the title of the song is, “Tear This Motherfucker Up”. As I listened to it, I watched and contemplated the mental space of the insurrectionists. They are so similar, yet so different. They would never be caught alive together, though they almost certainly will be caught dead together. They both have a power solution to the problems that they perceive, and they are both doomed to fail. One may receive the blessing of history, and the other may receive scorn, but they will both lose out by succeeding by their tactics. It is so, so much like the old man said to Nately.
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