One time I saw a cat try to cross a four lane highway. He wasn’t a full fledged cat, yet. His body was still small and fluffy, but he had those long legs and huge paws that said he would be a huge cat once he was finished growing. The last thing I saw before the tire of a car in front of me smashed into him was his too-long teenage kitty legs stretched as far as they would go, like a teeny leopard streaking across a jungle of concrete.

I wondered what on earth would make a cat take the chance of crossing over four lanes of highway–was it something wonderful? Something that might feed his belly for a couple of days? Or was it something that made it too terrifying to stay where he was?


My father and I are sitting in a tiny smoke filled restaurant. It’s early morning, before school. There are men in factory blue uniforms all around us, several of them greet my father as we walk in and find a table. For a while, my father is busy chatting with the other men. But eventually he turns to me.

I feel his gaze on my face. I don’t know what to do or say. My sweaty hands twist together under the table.

Then I feel his head turn away from me. Back toward his friends.
He doesn’t know what to do or say either. He picks up a menu and opens it.
I don’t know what is worse, his attention or the lack of it.
I try to ignore the twisting in my stomach.

It is my birthday.

I didn’t want to watch Battle Star Galactica. But I finally did, and I couldn’t stop watching. I’m not finished with the series yet, but I’m watching at least three shows a day, if not more. I always knew that one of the main characters on the show, Admiral Adama, was played by Chicano actor, Edward James Olmos–but I never really understood what that meant until I started watching the series. What it meant to see this little Chicano commanding an entire fleet of ships, giving orders, daring people to not obeyz. What it means to see a Chicano defy the first rule of science fiction–that there is no place in space for Chicanos. Not unless there’s a plantation somewhere that needs workers to harvest food for the heros.

And who can think of Edward James Olmos as anything BUT Chicano? The ulimate pachuco? He was one of the first actors to openly claim the deeply politicized “Chicano” rather than the more ambivalent “Mexican-American” or the assimilated “Spanish.”

The proud thrust of the head, the deep lean in the stance, the defiant care given to each article of clothing–the sneer, the confidence, the control–Admiral Adama learned everything he knows from El Pachuco. A born leader. Meant for more than endless picking in fields that don’t belong to us. Admiral Adama is as scary as he is admired. People don’t stand up to him or question him, they know better. But they also speak of him with a sense of awe. They trust his control.

But then Lieutenant Adama shows up. The son of El Pachuco hurts to look at. Only barely able to meet his father’s eyes. More comfortable addressing his father with “sir” than the more vulnerable “dad.” And angry. So angry he ran away and only came back because there was no place else to run to. Only world-wide apocalypse could force the son to face his father again.

The son is not simply “everything the father is not.” It’s more complicated than that.

The son is the crack in the fierce arrogance of El Pachuco.
The son does not trust the father. Or his control.
The son knows better.
And so is afraid.

I wanted to be my Dad when I was a kid.

Talking with a friend the other day, I remembered sitting in my childhood living room, watching the MTV official release of the Billy Joel video, Uptown Girl. Remember that video? Where Christie Brinkley is in a flowing white dress and Billie Joel is in workers blues? Watching that video as a child, I understood for the first time that my dad was important. Somebody that people made videos about. Somebody that people admired. Somebody the girl wanted.

I wanted to be that man. I wanted to be my dad.

Everything that he was, I was not.
He was brave, I was not, he was smart, I was not, he was a good worker, I was not, he was desirable, I was not. Everything he was, I was not.

I wanted to be my dad.
Not a mistake.


The place where one lives permanently, esp. as a member of a family or household.

esp. as a member of a family or household.

esp. as a member of a family


I’m the son nobody wanted. I’m the son my chicano dad didn’t want. I’m the son that my Chicano dad never learned to want, once he got to know me better. That’s what’s supposed to happen, right? The unwanted pregnancy turns into a wanted kid?

I had a Chicana friend who had a Dad like mine. She wound up the coddled baby of the family. The apple of the eye, the protected princess, the one who got that cherished name. m’ija. m’ijita when the love was overwhelming.

I couldn’t talk to her for months after I found out that she confronted her father and the way he treated her. And wound up in his lap, their tears mixing, their love reaching to each other and finally touching, the start of a new world. How do you talk to somebody through clawing jealousy? How do you keep misplaced anger from burning down the wrong thing?

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned I’m not alone. There are lots of father’s that never wanted their children. Lots of men that never will want the children they create. Will Smith in the Fresh Prince of Bel Air loses it in front of his uncle. Why didn’t that bastard want me?

Why didn’t he want me?

I have learned that this is question that can never be answered. That even if I could ask it of the man who lived in the same house with me for 17 years, the answer will be imperfect. Men answer “I don’t know” to hard questions. To escape the vulnerability, to escape the fear.

El Pachuco doesn’t care if he is loved. He doesn’t need to love. That’s what makes him so fierce. Desirable. What we all want to be. That’s what makes us love him and trust him.

But El Pachuco is afraid. He is more comfortable running than he is with staying. He often doesn’t need to run because he was never there to begin with. He doesn’t need to be loved–not because he is brave, but because he is afraid. Unused to the work of love, unused to the work of home. Unused to being vulnerable to another person.

So if he stayed, he sits, a stranger in his house. All around him too afraid to speak, to afraid to be noticed, by the man in the chair with beer and the always on TV. By the man who now uses work to keep his family from getting too close.

Your father has worked all day! If you bother him, you’re going to be whipped!

A home is a human right. A home is the definition of family.

esp. as a member of a family or household

Who are you if you never let yourself have a family?

Who are you if you share a house with somebody who never wanted a family?

Who never wanted you?

i try to imagine that letter. you know–the one that all the therapists say to write to people who you have things to say to, but can’t say them. i try to imagine it, but it’s too preposterous for even my imagination to talk to my father. what do i say to a person who doesn’t want to talk?

i am learning more and more the story of my femmé self. but the part of me that i counted on for so long–the part of me that is tuff and kept me alive and fought even when i didnt think i could fight anymore–i don’t know who that macha is, who that son is. what story the macha son needs to tell.

it’s been harder for me to come to terms with the son, harder than it ever was for the daughter. i never hated the daughter. the daughter, i did not value–and so the journey was learning to value her. when you go on that journey with other latinas who love through sharing what they’ve learned on their own journeys–this is almost a fun journey.

the son–i actively hated. the son–i punched, kicked, beat, and even stabbed. it was the son who cut. not the daughter. the father was everything the son was not. neither one of us had the skills or resources to notice or point out that the father was broken. or that the son was trying to break himself to be like him.

the son is all the mistakes the father has never made.

dear father.
dear sir.

I crumple up the paper. i don’t try the letter writing again.


I thought becoming a mother might change how I felt about my father. That it would plant a seed of sympathy and understanding that I could grow over time. Indeed, I can tell you the stories of being Pachuco tuff with my kids. Ordering them to stop crying.

But the truth is, parenting just reaffirmed that I was the coward. The mistake. I was not prepared to do what it would take to make those kids shut up, cuz God only knows you can’t just tell them to be quiet and expect them to listen. You need to actually do something to make them stop. But I didnt have the heart to hit them, or even just to scare them.

But boy did I know how to run. One day I pull the car off to the side of the road, tears blinding me, gagging me as they loosen mucus in my nose and throat.

W* and I were fighting. The kids were angry at us for fighting and kept yelling at us to stop. I wanted to stop, tried to force my mouth into quiet. But I couldn’t. I kept yelling and yelling, until leaving was the only thing left to do. I slammed the door with extra emphasis as I left. Fuck them.

But then the tears came, and I had to pull off to the side of the road. I knew the choice in front of me. I could leave. I could keep driving and never ever come back. Then it would all be over–the fighting, the mistakes, the fear.

Or I could go back.

I know what choice El Pachuco would make. And I knew that I couldn’t make that same choice. I can’t leave my family. I can’t leave my home.

I take a deep breath, dry my tears and turn the car around, towards home. W*s arms wrap around me when I get there, and we apologize. We talk to the kids together. It isn’t until later that it finally occurs to me that it’s not cowardice that keeps me there, it’s love.

But, I argue with myself, the son–he is the coward. The father’s mistake.



The other day a white *F*eminist said that she “could care less” about minority representation on film. Another white *F*eminist said she doesn’t include characters of color in her work because “she doesn’t know any people of color.”

You have to write what you know, they argue.

There is a scene in Battlestar Galactica.

El Pachuco wants to stay in a dangerous situation in the hopes of finding the girl that he loves like a daughter. He fights to stay in that situation, trying to buy time. He uses the power of El Pachuco bully others into staying when they all want to leave. He fights for the girl he loves like a daughter. But who isn’t his daughter.

Eventually, El Pachuco realizes–-it’s time to go. He is potentially sacrificing the lives of his entire fleet for one person. It’s time to go–and face the devastating loss of the girl he loves like a daughter. But who isn’t his daughter.

The cowardly son asks El Pachuco that terrifying question–the one that tears at the throats of all of us with El Pachuco for fathers. Would you have done all this if she had been me? Or: Do love me, too? Do you love me as much as you love this girl–who isn’t even your daughter?

Are you brave enough love?
Are you brave enough to love me?

Edward James Olmos knows not to be outraged that this son would ask this father such a question. Olmos knows he is a Chicano, and he accepts his responsibility as an actor to his community. He knows that we need stories too–that we need more than just Chicanos in space. Edward James Olmos knows what it means for El Pachuco to pull his son (m’ijito) into his arms and whisper fiercely, if it was you? I never would’ve left.

El Pachuco has finally stopped running.
El Pachuco is finally a dad.
El Pachuco finally is brave enough to love.

Because we need stories too.


our land is the freeways, the highways, the backroads nobody knows about but us.
gloria anzaldua defined us as movers, and border crossers–but she was careful to point out that the goal is to get back home. even if it’s not the home we left. if we have to build it ourselves.

because what are we, without a home?
what would happen if we stopped using all the roads slicing through our communities to run? and used them to come back home?

even if it’s not the home we left?
how can stories help us to build the home that is our human right?
our human right.
because we’re not mistakes.


I am sitting in my car, waiting to pick up kids from school. I’ve been traveling all day, up and down I-75, back and forth over I-94, across M-13 to finally wind up in a line of cars filled with parents waiting for the school bell to release their children
My butt hurts from the hours of sitting. My hair is whipped into a rats nest from the open windows on freeways. The radio blares as I flip through the pictures on my i-pod. I find the one I am looking for. Of me. The sun is over my shoulder, my face is in the shadow. My eyelashes stand out against my cheeks. I see my son’s eyes in mine. My eyes that are my father’s.

It is just family in this moment. Just us.
We are together. Our human right.

El Pachuco has finally stopped running.
El Pachuco is finally a mami.
El Pachuco finally is brave enough to love.
I would never leave.


It is our story.

Sunday Morning Reading

A peek at what I’ve been reading this lovely Sunday Morning!

Pope Francis’ Remarks at Independence Hall

The female fantasy of forced seduction stems from narcissism. Can women achieve empowerment as objects of desire?

High School Football Inc. The latest experiment in prep football is taking root, and coaches and officials around the country are watching with curiosity and wariness.

A Sprained Ankle May Have Lifelong Consequences

Across the USA by Train for Just $213

How To Watch Sunday’s Rare Supermoon Eclipse, The Last For Almost 20 Years

Reading this Week

Here’s a peak at some of what I am reading this week:

87 Deceased NFL Players Test Positive for Brain Disease.

Battle for (NFL) Benefits Pt 1

Battle for (NFL) Benefits Pt 2

In Memory’s Mirror: How Americans have commemorated the Civil War at fifty, one hundred and 150 years tells us who we are as a nation-in-progress.

content warning: Was I raped? Brutal assaults by strangers are unambiguous. But what should a woman do when she is the victim of an ‘almost rape’?

Mixteco Heritage Cookbook (pdf of fantastic cookbook!)

A Remembrance through Text

accept this offering,

~Ceremony (Leslie Marmon Silko)

Jackson Pollock, Enamel on canvas

A Timeline of things I didn’t know

  • On December 7th, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. I knew this. What I didn’t know was that the Japanese bombed other US territories that day as well, including Guam and the Philippines. What I also didn’t know is that the Battle of Wake Island started during those attacks, and lasted until the 23rd of December.
  • On February 1rst of 1942, the US led Marshalls-Gilberts raids started against the Japanese Navy.  I did not know that this was the first offensive action by the US against the Japanese since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. These raids did do some damage to the Japanese Navy, but didn’t really have a significant impact on any part of the war.
  • The Battle of Midway took place between the 3rd and 7th of 1942. It was a decisive victory of the US, and a loss that the Japanese never recovered from. Which I knew. What I didn’t know was that the landings on the beaches of Normandy (or D-Day) took place on the 6th of June two years later. I didn’t connect that these two major events shared an anniversary because the US doesn’t celebrate anniversaries of the Battle of Midway (which might get a brief mention in local papers about local gatherings) the way we do anniversaries of D-Day (which gets the President giving speeches on the beaches in front of international press tour).
  • On August 14th, 1945, Washington D.C. finally got word from Japan that it agreed to the terms of surrender that the Allies laid out.
  • On August 15th, 1945, Japan’s Emperor Hirohito’s recording of the Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War was broadcasted to the Japanese people. Most people in the US know nothing of this broadcast. If they do know anything it is that the word ‘surrender’ was never actually stated one time. As if that is the most interesting thing about a speech that was the first to tell the world about the utter destruction of the atomic bomb. You can listen to it here. The US doesn’t acknowledge this day, even though most of the rest of the world does through remembrances and V-J Day celebrations.
  • On September 2, 1945, Japan officially surrendered to Allied forces while aboard the USS Missouri. President Truman announced the surrender to the people of the US in a national broadcast that lasted less than ten minutes, but was a far more interesting speech than the Hirohito speech was. In it, Truman declares the US the strongest fighting force in history. He thanks God. He declares ‘we shall never forget.’ He declares it a victory of liberty over tyranny. He talks about ‘our way of life.’  He warns that the war isn’t actually over. You can listen to it here. Truman declared September 2nd as the US’s day of celebration of the end of WW2, but we don’t really celebrate this day either.

I have so many questions about the things I didn’t know. Why does the US never seem to really talk about or memorialize what happened in the Pacific even as we glorify and memorialize and celebrate D-Day every single year? Why are the only dates I really know for WW2, D-Day and the days that the US dropped the atomic bombs? Why did I never hear a recording of Truman’s ‘victory’ speech? Did Truman know that his speech would become US policy? Did he suspect how many presidents would use his language to justify their own wars?

Did he know this ‘victory’ speech would probably do as much harm through justification as his decisions to ok the atomic bombs did during the war?

In the US, you can’t get away from WW2. Rosie the Riveter is plastered on women’s studies department walls throughout the country, the History Channel is constantly running the WW2 marathons.  Steven Speilberg can’t stop making movies about the war, and every bad guy in the history of the movies is a Nazi or a Nazi in disguise. We cheer ‘paying back’ Japan for Pearl Harbor at soccer games, and we dream of returning our cities to their WW2 ‘splendor.’ We still after all these years, are supposed to hate Yoko Ono.

The Greatest Generation is the idolized parent, the one whose standards we know we can never quite live up to, whose courage, self sacrifice and stoic nature are the stuff of legends.

We can’t escape WW2 in the US, and yet, most here in the US are like me. Not aware of major battle names or dates. Completely ignorant of war fronts. No clue when the war actually ended.

How can you live in the US and not know basic facts about WW2? Well, it’s hard to see what’s right in front of you when your head is filled with justifications.

I am sitting at a large wooden table at the local university’s archives. Boxes and dust and hundreds of bulletins from the Unitarian Universalist Church in Detroit surround me.

The church began publishing the bulletins in the early 1900’s and did so all the way through till the 2000s. There is a trove of historical information in them: what young people did for fun during the Depression, how the church started their own school, what the church thought about first one war, then another, then another and another. The first church bulletin I find about WW2 has this entry (I’m going to quote it in full, it’s short):

Sunday, June 11, 1944

A Church of The Unities and Universalities

The brotherhood for which a church of the unities and universalities stands ought to be something more than just a happy generality. It ought to mean something with respect to our attitudes on this question of race. Nothing is more disastrous to human personality than many of the conventional attitudes.

We are told the story of a wounded soldier being brought home on a train. He was a Negro. He was very seriously wounded and there came the time when it was quite evident that he could not survive the trip. The doctor had him placed in a private compartment and was seated beside him. “Doc,” said the soldier, “There’s just one thing I’d like. If I’m going to die, I’d like first to hear the voice of some one from Georgia.”

The doctor went out and traveled through the entire train seeking some one from Georgia. After a long search, he found just one person who spoke with a good Georgia drawl. She was a charming young thing, good to look at, and very evidently from a family of culture and background. The doctor told her of the wounded soldier and of his request, but when he revealed the fact that the soldier was a Negro, the young woman refused to go.

Such things our social attitudes have the power to do to use. Like the young lady on the train our social attitudes have a great deal to do with making us what we are.

At first, I bolt through the story, so excited to find something new, something not seen so often it is crusty with mythology. Then I reach the end and my eyes go back to the beginning read it again. This time slowly.

I notice the expectation of ‘comfort’ that the machine of war put squarely on the shoulders of the women, I notice way the woman is described (good to look at, charming), I notice how value is given to the “Negro” because of his participation in militarism (and I pause to try to remember who wrote about citizenship and black people–was it Baldwin? Douglass? Both?). I notice that this young man who lay dying is called a Negro. Even by somebody who is trying to help.

And I also notice a question. Right there at the end, so insignificant, I almost don’t even see it. “Like the young lady on the train our social attitudes have a great deal to do with making us what we are.”

Our social attitudes have a great deal to do with making us what we are.

Our attitudes make us what we are.

Who are we? And who do we want to be?

I find three other bulletins from WW2. They all ask the same thing in one way or another. (from the first bulletin after Pearl Harbor: “Life goes on and on. Despite the chaos of the word around us–indeed, BECAUSE of it–the Church School of today must plan for the world of tomorrow. The toddlers in our nursery will become, in a few short years, men and women who will have a share in guiding the destiny of our community, our country, our world. WE are laying foundations in our Church School in this year of 1942-1943,–foundations upon which may rest a better, happier, more peaceful world. Our boys and girls are the stuff of which those foundations are made.”)

Who are we? Who do we want to be?

When the war finally ends, the church bulletin asks point blank, ‘What now?’ What kind of world do we want to build, now that we must get back to the business of living rather than killing?

They are the questions left behind for the living–the traumatized, the heart broken, the betrayed. Who are we? Who do we want to be?

They are questions I never knew that The Greatest Generation asked much less tried to answer. The Generation that did things with stoic calm, without question, without thought, because it was the ‘right thing to do.’

There’s no end to literature that reflects on war. And yet in the US, even literature that directly reflects on WW2 is not culturally understood as an analysis of or reflection on WW2 or the universal questions that WW2 shoved into the face of the entire world. I learned in high school that Slaughterhouse-Five was a critique of Vietnam. I learned in college that Catch-22 was too.

But those dusty old church bulletins clicked a distant memory in my brain. A memory of words that I had read once. On an impulse, I gathered up books that I could remember studying in school, started rereading them with those questions in mind. The questions that my mind already shifted into The Questions every time I thought of them. Who are we? Who do we want to be? What kind of world do we want to build?

First on the list, Slaughterhouse-5. Then Catch-22. Then because I saw the really bad movie based on it one night, On the Road. And then I remembered something, and went to Catcher in the Rye.

Hidden behind the ‘insanity’ and ‘dark humor’ and ‘counter-culture’ and ‘depression’ narratives that usually frame these texts, lurk The Questions. We’ve seen the worst–what now? Who are we? Who do we want to be?

It doesn’t surprise me when I find out that all of the authors of these texts are WW2 veterans.


When WW2 veteran, Eugene Sledge, saw the play, South Pacific, he walked out of the theater before it was over. It was too much. The dancing, the singing, the laughter. Laughter? In the Pacific? During the war?

In Sledge’s book, With the Old Breed, he tells of his time serving with the Marines during WW2.  He tells of walking by a dead body, seeing it in different stages of decay each time he walks past.

Of seeing US soldiers scavenge the bodies of still living Japanese soldiers, a knife slicing into the mouth of a struggling man, in an attempt to extract the gold fillings.

Of seeing civilian Okinawans blown to bits.

Of seeing a dead US soldier with genitals in his mouth, shoved there by a Japanese soldier.

Of being so terror-filled at the relentless shelling, he had to use the constant repetition of prayer to keep his mind in his body. To stay sane.

It makes sense that sitting in a theater, hearing laughter, about a time that nearly broke him, that it was too much. An insult that simply could not be born.

And yet, as I watched the play for the first time (I had only seen the sub-par movie until that point), I saw The Questions again: What now? What sort of people do we want to be? What kind of world do we want?

And indeed, I found out that Rogers and Hammerstein deliberately put those questions into their play. There are two couples in the play, each couple has to negotiate race in some way. In both cases, the point of view is from a white perspective, a man and a woman. But the play doesn’t let these two off the hook. The white lady loves a French man but then finds out he has Polynesian (or, as she says, ‘colored’) children. She breaks it off with him. And then is made to look herself, everything she’s always just accepted, and her actions square in the face.

The white man sings about how you’ve got to be carefully taught‘ to be racist. And immediately breaks of his relationship with a Polynesian woman. He doesn’t have enough guts to bring her back to the US. Back home. We see that he has been taught very well. That as much as we want our brave soldier to be his own man, he has long since fallen in line and now does as he is told.

White USians didn’t like You Got to be Carefully Taught. Politicians in Georgia tried to ban the play and any plays like it. Theaters refused to show the play in front of desegregated audiences. Rogers and Hammerstein responded to criticism by saying that the song was the reason they wrote the play. They refused to show the play anywhere that theaters weren’t desegregated. The song stayed in the play. Theaters were desegregated.

What kind of world do we want? Who do we want to be?

The Questions were not a single philosophical rumination by a single minister in a single church in Detroit. They are not the subversive ramblings of inaccessible writers that hippies read while high in a tent at week long music festivals. The Questions were the driving force of pop culture, of counter culture, of religious culture, of political culture. The were the questions of the living. Of the traumatized, the heart broken, the betrayed. They were the questions of the people.


hiroshima post-atomic bomb

As the 70th anniversary of the surrender of Japan has come and gone, there’s been scant reflection in the US on WW2 or ‘war’ in general. The usual thought pieces on the ethics of dropping the bombs made the media circuit and with them came the now normalized pictures of atomic destruction–the ‘before’ and ‘after’ maps, the massive mushroom, the little boy’s tricycle.

The thought pieces wonder, was the bomb justified? Those on one side assert with profound indignation that ‘no’ the US was not justified in dropping the bomb. They point to the decision making process behind making the bomb and how the US really wanted to scare Stalin more than anything. Or they point to the picture of the little boy’s tricycle. And argue nothing could possibly justify that.

Those on the other side point to the vicious defense of homeland by the Japanese. The incredible loss of life for US soldiers and non-Japanese civilians. This side also points to the Samurai culture for good measure, to the cultural code that created and accepted banzai and kamikaze attacks as legitimate methods of fighting. They draw the conclusion that because of the Samurai culture, the loss of life during a ground war in Japan would’ve been catastrophic. And so the bombs are justified.

For most of my life, I’ve been in the first group, the profoundly indignant group. It wasn’t just that I was horrified by the pictures, devastated by the loss of life, overwhelmed by the implications of such complete destruction–it was also that I noticed that Japanese people were brown. And that the bomb hadn’t been used against anybody else. And that The Greatest Generation still called Japanese people “Japs” or “Nips,” well into the 80s. And I felt that the bombs were racialized violence used by a white supremacist nation to control the uncontrollable brown people.

These days, I can see where the other side is coming from. Japan wasn’t fucking around. Every single thing I’ve ever felt or thought or that I’ve ever read from scholars about the bombs being used against brown people because they were brown is absolutely 100% correct. And Japan still wasn’t fucking around. They intended to win that war by any means necessary, and they used a terrifying level of grotesque means. USians like to focus on what was done to US soldiers (Eugene Sledge gives about the fairest accounting that I can find), but the Japanese were pretty grotesque to almost everybody they encountered.

Knowing all this, I understand better. That it was racism and white supremacy AND anger and fear all mixed together into a toxic narrative that justified the bomb, not once, but twice, to US soldiers, lawmakers, civilians.

But the thing is. Of course there is something that can justify violence. Of course there is. If Japan hadn’t fought to the last man and it hadn’t shot and killed a bunch of nurses standing on a beach and it hadn’t performed experiments on soldiers and civilians and if it hadn’t done everything it did–we still could find a way to justify any violence we perpetrated. Just ask the Okinawans. In the US, anything can be justified. War most of all.

Which means that if you want to stop war, you’ll need something more than profound indignation and the wrong questions.


Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, by Joe Rosenthal / The Associated Press

People in the US know this picture. It is part of our consciousness. It defines us to ourselves, and we hope to the rest of the world. It is a beautiful image. The taut body of the first man, the one closest to the bottom of the pole. The hips of one soldier resting in the curve of the body of the soldier in back of him. The hands in the air of the last soldier, caught in such a way that he could be just finished helping push the flag pole upwards or maybe waiting to catch a falling flag in case something happens to the others. It is an intimate picture, even though the men are all nameless and faceless. It speaks of all that the US hopes to be. Self sacrifice, courageous, working together for the betterment of the world. Young, masculine, beautiful physicality.

But even this picture that represents us to ourselves has it’s own story. There was a lot of controversy over who was in the picture (Ira Hays told the truth, even as the military tried to silence him), and with the exception of Navy Corpsman, John Bradley, all the men in the picture either died in later fighting or lived miserable lives post-WW2. For various reasons, all those who survived the war grew to resent the attention they got for being in the picture. And a large part of that resentment stemmed from how the military used the picture and the men to service it’s own needs.

As the Secretary of Navy at the time said shortly after the flag went up, ‘the raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years!’

This flag raising, this intimate culturally defining image of the raising, wasn’t only used to rake in millions of dollars to cover the cost of the rest of the war. It wasn’t just used as a feel good morale booster to give USians the will to make it through what would be months of more war.

It was also used to justified the installation of a standing military in the US, something the US hadn’t felt it needed in almost 170 years–remember that the US had no standing military until WW2. A standing military needs money, and that picture opened the doors to untold levels of military funding. Because a threat to the US was a threat to what that picture represented. Our brave next generation–our ‘boys,’ who only want to make the world a better place. Our most sacred values, our most sacred citizens. Any response to a threat against our best is justified. Necessary.

That picture justified 500 more years of military and it justified eternal war, just as surely as the firemen raising the flag on top of ‘ground zero’ almost 60 years later did. It justified transitioning the US to ‘the strongest nation in the world’ just as surely as President Truman’s speech justified continued military ‘interventions’ into Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Wars can always be justified. Sometimes all it takes is a picture.


raising the flag ground zero

“What now?” asks the traumatized Billy Pilgrim.

“What sort of people do we want to be?” asks the heartbroken Holden Caulfield.

“What sort of world do we want to live in?” asks the betrayed John Yossarrian.

What is the point of ‘life’? If life can be destroyed, just like that? If it will be destroyed? If destruction of life is the goal?

The plan?

On the 70th anniversary of a war that saw the destruction of millions of lives–that saw the rape of millions (another thing I didn’t know, this ‘new world’ was built on rape), are we any closer to answering these questions? Do we even know that these are the questions we must be working to answer?


Let’s dig into this question of justification. What is it asking, really?

Is [bombing, war, militarization, a standing military, etc] justified?

What are the missing parts of this question? What does this question assume we understand without needing to be told? Let’s break it down a bit.

  • Is [bombing, war, militarization, a standing military, etc] justified?
  • Is it justified for [us] to harm [them]?
  • We have the power to harm if we choose to.
  • Would [we] be justified to harm [them] in this instance?
  • We have the power. And we will use it for whatever reason against whomever we want whenever we see fit.

The most powerful nation in the world.

We get lost in the question of ‘justification’ the same way we get lost in the magnitude of the atomic bombs. Yes the bombs were world changing. Yes they were devastating. But because we never look at what air bombing did to cities across Japan, Germany or England, we forget that war in general is devastating. And we forget to ask if war in general is justified.

Slaughterhouse-Five was about the fire bombing of Dresden, which saw the loss of 22,000 to 25,000 people. German air raids on British cities led to at least 40,000 deaths. It’s estimated anywhere from 85,000 to 200,000 died during US bombing of Tokyo. And these are just the ‘big’ air bombings, the most well known. The US practiced a military strategy of extensive air bombing before finally sending ground troops in–the French wrote of despising the US for this, especially because the US couldn’t manage to hit a target. Even Japanese soldiers, largely protected from the bombing because of their intricate bunkers, complained of the effect of the endless bombing on morale, how they couldn’t hear themselves think, for days and days at a time.

What did this practice of ‘bomb then invade’ have on the populations living through it? How many lives were lost? If the US never dropped the atomic bombs, would the US’s relentless air bombing campaigns have been justified?  Of course they would’ve been, people will argue, because of Hitler and the Jews. Of course they would’ve been, others will say, because of Pearl Harbor, or because ‘they’ attacked ‘our way of life.

The reasons behind ‘justification’ become a type of fetish–a ceremony to preform every year, with the atomic bombs or Pearl Harbor or Hitler or any number of justifications acting as a mirror to admire our masturbation with. I feel very good about myself because I can clearly see that these bombs were not justified ! I feel very smart because I can see that we were justified in dropping those bombs!

I feel good about myself!


Is that who we want to be?

Is that who we, the people, want to be?

What kind of people do we want to be?


There are consequences for allowing ‘Is this justified’ to center the discussion about war. We must keep doing this, we must stay strong and keep going, we must not give in to the terrorists who hate us, we must keep always always always growing our military. We are justified [in doing what we want], because ‘they’ are a threat to our way of life. We must bear the burden of this eternal war in the name of the Greatest Generation.

The Greatest Generation that was stoic and didn’t complain and sacrificed willingly and never ever talked about their losses, ever. The Greatest Generation that did what they were told.

Only they didn’t.

Did you know:

That there was a strong anti-war movement in both the US and Japan pre-WW2? Or that men took off, experimented with drugs, and tried to drown in bepob/hard bop and cool jazz after the war? Or that Divorce rates skyrocketed?

Or that there were race based protests and rebellions in cities across the US throughout WW2?  Black soldiers were killed on the home front all through WW2. Returning soldiers of color just couldn’t accept the injustice, not anymore than Eugene Sledge could accept the laughter.  Black soldiers came home after the war ended and lead voter registration drives and desgregation efforts.

Charles White, the Return of the Soldier

And then there were the factories. To say that men were put back in the factories because women weren’t needed anymore and things could return to ‘normal’ (i.e. misogyny), is only partially true. It was also an effort to control the men. To make them get up every morning, come home every night. To saddle them with an always pregnant wife and lots of hungry mouths to feed.

Because what would happen–to everything– if men refused? If all the men took off and road trains and went on days long benders? What would happen if men ‘wallowed’ in their pain? If they admitted they were in pain and couldn’t move? If they said they couldn’t, wouldn’t do it anymore?

Men were often institutionalized and lobotomized. More often they were socially shamed by wives and families for not being ‘real’ men. For being ‘weak.’ General Patton once slapped a soldier suffering from PTSD for being a ‘yellow coward.’ They made a movie about Patton after the war was over. It is considered by many to be a great movie, one of the best about WW2. It is still shown on TCM and you can watch it on Netflix.

The man who was slapped? I couldn’t tell you his name without googling, or what happened to him or his struggles with the trauma of war. Did he survive?

Was the great ‘stoic’ generation really ‘stoic’? That is: were they a generation of people with a philosophy that allowed them to willingly bear great adversity without prioritizing their pain? Or were they a generation of people who were systemically terrorized, shamed, and threatened into silence? Into doing what they were told?

Number 12, Mark Rothko


In J.D.Salinger’s book, 9 Stories, he has multiple stories that deal with WW2. Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut is the story of a white woman in the suburbs, stuck in a loveless marriage and who loved a boy once. The boy she loved was a soldier killed in a freak accident during the war. His life rendered meaningless by his meaningless death. The woman’s drinking, loveless marriage, her inconsiderate treatment of her black maid and her daughter, all ask over and over and over again, ‘Is this it?’

She punishes everyone around her because from what she can see, the answer is ‘yes.’ This is it. The American Dream is everything but love. Or a meaningful life.

In the end, through tears, she asks her best friend, ‘I was a nice girl, wasn’t I?’ It’s a question of the still living, the traumatized, the betrayed. She did what she was supposed to do, she is still doing what she is supposed to do, holding up the system with her marriage, maintaining the system with a child she feels ambivalence for. She was a good girl, and she is still profoundly miserable.

She is the girl in the story from the church bulletin all grown up. And she doesn’t know how to escape the misery that has iced her into this life.


Mamie and Emmett Till

I read a book about rape in France during the US occupation. I was surprised to find a story about Mamie Till’s husband and Emmett Till’s father–Louis Till. From all accounts, he was a troubled man, and his relationship with Mamie was filled with violence. After he repeatedly violated a restraining order Mamie filed against him, the judge ordered him to choose between going to jail and joining the military. He chose the military, and was shipped off to France as a part of a segregated military that only found use in black men in so far as they could bear menial labor.

While in France, Till was accused of the murder of one woman and the rapes of two others. Given his relationship with Mamie, it seems pretty likely that he was guilty. But as this book points out, 83% of the soldiers tried and convicted of rape in the European theater were black, even as they made up only a small fraction of the military and rape was rampant throughout any region where US troops were stationed.  A Jim Crow military did not have the stomach to put white service men on trial. Not our boys, who sacrificed so much, who were so courageous. Black men whose only job was to dig trenches, on the other hand, were quickly and easily sacrificed to bureaucracy. To show the military was ‘doing something’ without it really doing anything.

Mamie Till didn’t find out that her husband was found guilty and hung until after Emmett was dead. During the trial of the white men who murdered her boy, Louis Till was used as proof, as evidence, that Emmett Till was no good. Like father, like son.

The “Negro” of the story from the church bulletin murdered to protect the white woman who wouldn’t talk to him. By our boys, the heroes.

Anything can be justified. Anything.


From Catcher in the Rye and 9 Stories I move on to Lorraine Hasberry’s Raisin in the Sun and then John Okada’s No No Boy. Then Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony which will be followed by Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima. These texts all talk with each other. With us. The non-white people struggling with the power that white people have to use whenever and where ever they see fit. And with the country that justifies the violence.

The Questions wrap around all these texts (Who are we? Who do we want to be?), but they take a different meaning to them when brown and black people ask them. Who are we to kill others for a nation that would kill us the minute we get home? Do we want to kill people that look just like us, for a nation that would kill us just as easily? Is this the sort of world we want to live in?

Is this the sort of world we want for our children?

What do we do now that we know the answer is no?


Domingo Ulloa, Braceros

He walked along, thinking, searching, thinking and probing, and, in the darkness of the alley of the community that was a tiny bit of America, he chased that faint and elusive insinuation of promise as it continued to take shape in mind and in heart. ~No-No Boy

The answer is no. Over and over again, no. Everybody from the suburban housewives to the the teenagers to the churches. No. But you cant hear the ‘no’ if you don’t know what they are saying ‘no’ to.

Yes, this war may be justified, but no–a thousand times NO–this is NOT the world we want. This is NOT who we want to be. Almost universally, No. From deep in the icy suburbs to the stifling hot urban ghettos. From churches in 1950s Detroit to Black Lives Matter protests in 2015. No.

Of course many of us are still wrapped up in the question of ‘justification.’  Corporations, the military and the government have formed an unholy Trinity to keep our eyes off the prize, to keep us masturbating to the ‘same corpse‘ over and over again. Many of us have learned the Trinity’s lesson uncommonly well–for some of us, we have the resources to deal with the trauma, heart break, and betrayal much more efficiently than others do. So we got used to focusing on ‘was it justified.’ We felt safe, we felt normal and comfortable. And eventually we stopped noticing what happened if you said no. And we started asking why anybody would say no. And then blamed the people who said no when the punishments reigned down.

But there are more and more of us noticing that we have to be kept busy with the question of justification so we don’t notice the more important questions. The Questions. Sure this war, this bombing, this violence may be totally justified. But do we want to be the sort of people that respond with war, bombing, violence? Anything can be justified. Do we want to be the sort of people that can justify anything?

What sort of world do we want to live in? Do we want to live in this world where any type of violence you can possibly imagine is justified?

It’s not an accident, not really, that the children of The Greatest Generation were the hippies, the marchers, the feminists, the brick throwers. And it’s also not an accident that we’ve done everything we can to fracture the resistance of those children from the trauma, broken hearts and sense of betrayal of their parents. And that we’ve done everything we can to fracture that trauma, those broken hearts and sense of betrayal of the parents from WW2. From the ‘no’ of The Greatest Generation. We have to believe that the children were revolting against the conservative parents instead of advocating for them. So that the wars can go on.

But who did those children of the The Greatest Generation give birth to? Who is Generation X? Who are the Millennials?  And what are our questions? Are we brave enough to put down the mirror and look at each other? Are we courageous enough to take up the flag of questions our parents and grandparents asked? To stop caring if it’s justified, and instead focus on building the world we want to live in?

Are we courageous enough to look at who are we? And imagine who we want to be?

Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP Photo

Somewhere hidden in the haze of tear gas and the shrill of ceaseless police sirens, you can feel the questions forming…How do we become who want to be? How do we build a world we want to live in?


This is a nation that tells it’s history through the justification of war. What isn’t a means to that end, doesn’t get told or remembered. Pay attention to the pictures above–each picture has a name. Except the last one. The one that features a nameless faceless black man. His body taut, his arm angled to throw back an act of violence perpetrated against his community, his hair reaching back towards his arm, as if to help it get rid of the violence. His shirt, the flag. The US, defined. And yet, this photo has no name, not like the others.

What isn’t a means to war, doesn’t get named. So it won’t be remembered.

We must go back and stitch the web of time back together again on our own. (Re)learn what we thought we remembered. Find out what is missing where we never knew there was an empty space. Remember the questions of the living. Answer them. And then ask our own.

“We are citizens of a country that we still have to create—a just country, a compassionate country, a forgiving country, a multiracial, multi-religious country, a joyful country that cares about its children and about its elders, that cares about itself and about the world, that cares about what the earth needs as well as what individual people need. I am, you are, a citizen of a country that does not yet exist, and that badly needs to exist.” ~ Dr. Vincent Harding

It’s been 70 years since the Japanese officially surrendered, starting the process of ending WW2 hostilities. There is an alternative to the way we live now. The world can be changed, and everybody, even the military, knows this, even if only intuitively. It’s why they spend so much time trying to convince us otherwise. That we have no choice. That we must carry on–because we are justified.

But now we know the truth. The world can be changed. We can build what does not yet exist. Who are we? What kind of world do we want? How do we build the sort of world we want to live in?

We are alive. And we remember the living who gave us so much.

accept this offering,