Tuesday, November 27, 2012

End of the semester, part I

It's the last week of classes, and there's good news and bad news.

The good news:  Two linguistics students came by the office worried about being able to finish their papers on time.  Their problem: too much material.  The paper is a squib, defined as a usually relatively short exploration of a topic, often incomplete.  I had to talk them down, explaining that squibs are not term papers and that at a convenient point they needed to just stop and suggest where they might go next in the exploration of their topic.  But it is good to know that some students seem to be finding linguistics engaging and relevant.

The bad news: A student emails asking which chapters, in addition to 18 and 19, will be on the final test next week.  Our textbook only has 13 chapters.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day

Mom and Dad were married during World War II, and they both did their part to help defeat fascism and genocide in Europe and Asia.  If they were still around, I would want them and all veterans to be honored for their service, and I would also want them to have what, really, everyone ought to have:  health care, education, and all the other things that only an entity like the state can provide for all its citizens.

What I would not want, necessarily, is the hyperbolic near-deification that we seem to want to bestow on our military folk, past and present, regardless of what they did or where they did it.

I'm willing to go the extra mile in giving props to the generation that beat Hitler and his ilk; I am less comfortable with the hero-worship of more recent veterans of places like Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  Did they do hard work in difficult places?  Of course.  But were they really fighting for "our freedom," as the speeches and declarations assert?  The evidence is not there.  None of these "enemies" were even close to being a threat to the United States.  None of them were in a position to attack and occupy the US, none could have subjected us to their will.

Virtually every military adventure undertaken by the US since WWII has been a "war of choice," nearly always for the purpose of shoring up some capitalism-friendly dictator (for a long list go here; for just a sample of the current ones, go here). Very often these people have committed egregious criminal acts against their own people. Very rarely have they been the kind of leaders we should be supporting: people with a sincere desire to improve the conditions in which their people live.

What we have really done, since World War II, is create a class of citizens who are, from some perspectives, unindicted war criminals.  Do I want them to be indicted?  No, I don't (some of our leaders who sent them into these situations should be, though).  But no, what I want is for them to be taken care of, to be given whatever they need to deal with the physical and mental injuries they have returned with, to be provided access to the education and training they need to rebuild their post-military lives.

And we should promise them that we will never again betray the folks who, for whatever reason, enter our military by sending them into these spuriously manufactured and often no-win conflicts that, objectively, have little or nothing to do with our own security, and everything to do with the feeding of our vast military-industrial complex.

As a culture, we are addicted to warfare and violence.  The first step in conquering addiction is to admit there's a problem.  The Veterans Day "celebrations," in their present form at least, do not help.