Of all the people in history that have reached 65 years of age, half of them are living right now. And that’s for the whole world. Here in Madera County, we’re all over the place. Look around. Geezers galore! I’m proud and amazed at being part of our illustrious bunch, having entered my 70th year this last September 8th when I turned 69. Wife Eileen is most uncomfortable having me state personal chronology this way, “70th year” ringing in her ears with ominous overtones, but I find still being on the right side of the lawn an astounding achievement.
The United States entered World War Two three months after my birth and ended it four years later with two blinding explosions of star-hot white light over Hiroshima and Nagasaki as The Atomic Age rolled in with terrible terminal fury.
J. Robert Oppenheimer was an American theoretical physicist and professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. He is known as the “father of the atomic bomb”. Later solemnly pondering such achievement with churning discomfort as he reviewed the horrific fruits of his labor, Oppenheimer famously recalled these words from the Hindu Holy Book, Bhagavad Gita: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one. Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
Back then, even we children knew the score. “Duck and Cover” wasn’t a game, but a constantly repeated survival exercise. We were carefully instructed to “listen for sirens” and be on the lookout for a “brilliant burst of light”, at which point we were to dive to the ground or under our desks and, if possible, cover ourselves with anything appropriate, if only little hands on tiny faces. I honestly never expected to see puberty, whatever I might have thought that to be, although in the late ‘40’s we never heard of “puberty” at all. There were many more secrets then. But not about instantaneous death and destruction. These always seemed but a single flash away. It was understood that existence was a precarious proposition.
Proportionately miraculous, therefore, is the extraordinary notion that so many of us in Oakhurst are still here, our longevity primarily attributable to the overarching guarantee of assured mutual destruction should “the radiance of a thousand suns” ever again be darkly unleashed.
This “War Against Terror?” How foolish a phrase and how wrenchingly sad, for only ultimate terror has kept us safe so far.
But things have become marvelously, almost immaculately anesthetized. We are painlessly removed from stark realities for which we still remain ultimately responsible. “War” has become an abstraction. Just a word. Other than a slender percentage of population, most of us live safe above the cry of battle, far away from the rumble of artillery, at comfortable, soothing distance from death rattles of the dying. Such cultural sequester is not by accident.
It was a full fifty years ago, January 17, 1961, that President Dwight David Eisenhauer, Supreme Allied Commander of our victorious forces in that Second World War, issued this critical warning in his Farewell Address to the Nation:
“My fellow Americans, we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
An astounding recent article (December 2010) in the Boston Globe analyzed the career paths of 750 of the highest ranking generals and admirals who retired during the last two decades. Escalating through earlier years, by 2004 through 2008, 80 percent of retiring three- and four-star officers went to work as consultants or defense executives, many becoming millionaires in the process. In 2007 alone, the move from general staff to industry was virtually a clean sweep. Thirty-four out of 39 three- and four-star generals and admirals who retired in 2007 are now working in defense roles — nearly 90 percent.
Yet no one seems to care.
With a trillion and a half dollar budget deficit this year alone, fifteen billion dollars a week now feeds the increasingly voracious American war machine.
With an American war hero’s warning unheeded and predatory power unchecked, we have become a people comfortably numbed — resigned to bored indifference — our continuing presence in Afghanistan and elsewhere off our shores — an extended act of moral abrogation and national insanity.