By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli
It has been a rough week. After a contentious 18-month presidential campaign, we now have protests, both peaceful and not, that have swept across the country. The Electoral College choice and his followers have unleashed the beasts of hatred, racism, and misogyny against minorities and against women. Several of them have told me, “It will be all right” and “Life goes on”. Really? It is amazing how vacuous these people can be.
After fitful nights of sleep this past week, it finally occurred to me when I last experienced this nationwide tumult, this level of dissatisfaction, and this anger: the Vietnam War.
It was during the Vietnam War years that the nation raged and protested its intense displeasure. The press and the media churned out grisly images of our youthful military twisted into misshapen forms, as well as the expressions of numbing shock on the faces of children. Those images have stayed with me, serving as terrifying reminders of war. During my undergraduate years at Indiana University Bloomington, other images were burned into my mind: protests, not all of them peaceful. The vestiges of The Age of Aquarius gave way to increased use of drugs as students sought to dull the pain of a war many did not support, yet in which a large number of them were forced to fight due to the draft.
Complacency also factored into those Vietnam War years. The attempts of the “We’ll be all right” and “The war can’t last forever” mantras, followed by the nationalistic “We’re fighting for democracy” chants morphed into meaningless twaddle as the war dragged on. Fighting for democracy in a country that didn’t appear to support democracy in the first place, having been a French colony for years in a part of the world most Americans couldn’t locate on a map, failed in the end to equate with victory. What democracy is there under a dictatorship? The answer is: none.
After the Vietnam Veterans returned to an America that had tuned them out, failed even to throw them a ticker-tape parade for heroism, nay for their very survival, Americans longed for peace and for stability. Now, as military veterans return from deployment in Iraq and in Afghanistan, minus limbs, and with copious amounts of PTSD, there are still no parades to acknowledge their service. That is not to say parades ease their pain, but at least we would be thanking them with brass bands for laying their lives on the line, like we could do, but don’t, for our uniformed blue.
Now, a white supremacist group in North Carolina has organized a parade for the “president-elect”. This past week, Black students at the University of Pennsylvania received messages with gruesome images from a group the Feds and the university have yet to identify. In addition, school personnel tell me that bullying has increased in the past year. Small wonder: the “president-elect” is a bully. Thus, a pattern has begun to emerge, and it’s not pretty.
My father and my maternal great-grandfather were immigrants. The only natives in the U.S. are the Native Americans, the rest of us are descended from immigrants, voluntary or forced, all of us are, except for the aforementioned Native Americans, which our government marginalized, but that is a topic unto itself. My family likely would not have been admitted to the U.S. in the current climate since the very fascism my father sought to escape in Italy seems to have reared its head here, in America, in the land of democracy, here in the purported land of the free. Woody Guthrie sang, “This land is your land/This land is my land”. Guthrie’s song lauded the expansiveness of America, of her “anything is possible” sensibility, of her humanity. Those traits, which are remarkably absent now, but one hopes will rise again.
Ciao for now.