Monday, May 30, 2011

White On White Crime

Photo by: J. Stephen Conn
[First Place Essay Winner - Phi Theta Kappa 2010 Regional Literary Anthology]

A Satirical Glance at Cultural Stereotyping in Rural America

Both my parents were born and raised in the mountains of a very small, rural community in Pikeville, Tennessee. I, on the other hand, had been raised predominately between the borders of poverty and the homeless on the urban streets of Los Angeles, California. Sometime during my 7th year in school, my parents decided to return to their roots and moved back to Pikeville, within the sanctuary and solace of family and familiarity. Who would of thought that a simple, unassuming move from the urban sprawl to the simplicity of country living would spawn a hard lesson in cultural stereotyping and upbringing-prejudice? I would later find out there was plenty to be concerned with, and ironically enough it wouldn’t be until I was an adult attending an English Composition class at Chattanooga State, living back in that very small country town of Pikeville, that I would realize I had been subjected to cultural stereotyping.

What does a young white male – boy – know about cultural stereotyping and prejudice? What on earth could a young white boy be worried – I wasn’t – about moving from the racial and cultural mesh of the inner city, to a small, seemingly unimposing, school that consisted entirely of “white” people just like him? After all it’s not like I was moving into a predominately ethnic rich or culturally diverse neighborhood or school, which is what I was used to. These people were just like me. In fact many would be family as my father warned, “Son, be careful which girls you kiss; they just might be your cousin.” Sure enough he was right; in some form or fashion, married kin and blood kin alike, I was related to nearly half of my classmates. This should have made for an even easier transition, so one would have thought.

It should be noted that Pikeville rests in the heart of Bledsoe County; also known by historians and locals as “Bloody Bledsoe,” due greatly in part to the loss of life and limb endured from the feuding battles between families and communities bitterly divided by Union and Confederate supporters, and by virtue of the Civil War itself. I wasn’t aware of this little known fact until after I had taken a Tennessee history lesson in the required 4H club later that same year in 7th grade. Had I been privy to this beforehand I might have been a bit more prepared for the “battles” I would experience. Oh sure, my father commonly narrated anecdotes about his childhood growing up in Pikeville, and the plethora of schoolyard scraps he used to engage in on a daily basis, but I subconsciously filed those stories away with the other seemingly exaggerated tales – more like moralized preaching’s – that always started out with, “When I was your age-” like, “I had to walk five miles to school, uphill, both ways, in the snow without socks or shoes,” and “we had no toys, we played with rocks, and we were happy to have them.”

The small mountain community of Pikeville had an even smaller school, which combined elementary and junior high in the same building, named Mary V. Wheeler Elementary School. Needless to say, there was no way I was going to just “blend in” or sink into the recesses of obscurity in a place where everyone knew everyone, and had done so since they were “knee-high to a tadpole.” I might as well had been someone with a different ethnic background or skin color, because the moment I stepped on that school bus for the first time, the moment I opened my mouth and didn’t speak with a “southern drawl,” or use words like, “ya’ll”, “fixin’”, and “yonder,” I was an outsider; a foreigner amongst people of my own race and kin. The children gawked and stared; pointed fingers with sneers and giggles. They whispered and talked amongst themselves, perhaps trying to glean some manner of understanding of what fell-creature had just entered their bus, and where “it” had came from. I imagined it was very similar to the feeling Judith Ortiz Cofer in “The Myth of the Latin Woman” described when sometimes peoples actions and words “can make you an island,” and not the pretty tropical kind, but rather more that resembling the undesirable destination of Alcatraz despite your best efforts to “belong." A few of the children even mustered up the will and courage to speak to it – me –, “Watt’s yur name?” and “Whur ya from?” some asked. When they found out that I wasn’t “from ‘round these parts,” but more importantly a “city boy,” my life became a series of tests and manly trials for the first few weeks that I will never forget.

The male bravado can be hypersensitive to change, particularly when it comes in the form of “new blood,” and I was the new blood. Coming into a situation like that, I had to prove myself. There was already a well-established pecking order amongst the boys, and they wanted to know where I stood. Brent Staples in “Black Men and Public Space” touched on this “male romance with the power to intimidate,” citing several examples of how “poor and powerless young men” have used violence to boost their own self worth, and most of those boys did indeed come from a financially challenged household, including myself. In my case, I was automatically labeled as “weak” and “soft” simply because I hadn’t grown up in the harsh environment of a country lifestyle, but what they didn’t know was growing up in the inner-city was not a pleasant stroll through easy street either.

There were three boys that stood out from the rest: Clarence, Marty and Claude. They occupied the top three ranks in the pecking order, and tested my “manhood” on a daily basis. Clarence was the undisputed top dog. More man than boy, Clarence had legs like tree trunks and arms and hands big enough to crush a man’s skull. He was thick in the middle, with broad shoulders, and was much taller then anyone else, even those in the 8th grade. I often wondered, but never had the courage to ask, whether these physical “blessings” were attributed to good genes, or simply because Clarence had been held back a time or two and really was a man amongst boys. Marty was super-lean and tough as nails. His slender frame betrayed his quasi-superhuman strength. Marty typically was the victor of any manhood test that required the endurance of pain or strength. Claude was also strong and lean, but his best attribute was his speed. When he ran, his upper body seemed to be nailed flat to a board; stiff and perfectly perpendicular to the ground. His running gait was comprised of short choppy steps, but regardless of how awkward he looked when he ran, he was blazing fast, faster than anyone in the school.

Each day I would come home with bruises, scratches, and knots on my arms and legs. These were usually the end result of punching matches, knuckle busting, wrestling, or some other conceived form of manhood test, but sometimes they were the result of fistfights as well. This went on for several weeks – it never really stopped, as there was always someone trying to move up ranks of the pecking order – until ironically enough, it wasn't my success or failure at any of these “tests”, but rather from a simple game of tackle football on the playground that propelled me from “city boy” to “one of the boys.”

By this time I had earned enough “country boy” creditability to play, but rarely did I have the ball thrown or handed to me. I was usually delegated to the menial task of blocking or hiking the ball; everyone knew those tasks were better suited for the city boy anyway. As fate would have it, someone from the opposing team fumbled the ball right in front of me. Instincts kicked in, and I picked up the ball and started running as fast as I could, but before I had even traveled a few feet, three boys from the opposing team jumped on top of me in an attempt to bring me down. This was my chance, I thought, this was my chance to prove to these country boys that I was no pansy city boy. I leaned forward and got my legs churning as fast as I could, pushing off one of the defenders in the process. Before I knew it, others had joined in, trying to bring me down with reckless abandon, but by sure will and determination I did not falter.

As the weight bearing down on me became too much to bear, my inertia stopped, and I began to drift backwards. Soon it wasn’t just my opponents trying to bring me down, but my own teammates as well, trying to get me down before I had lost too many yards. At one point there must have been at least six boys on, and around me, trying to bring me down, but I wouldn’t have any of it. I just kept chopping my feet until finally I was able to break away from the full weight of the scrum. With two boys still on my back, I jolted forward and managed to break loose from them just moments before crossing the goal line for a touchdown.

It was one of the most exhilarating and satisfying moments in my life. It’s amazing how sports will often break down social, ethnic, and cultural barriers that our society builds up, even when all other efforts fail. Much like how I was able to shed the burden of those young men off my back, I was able to shed the burden of being labeled a “city boy,” and instantly earned my place among the “country boys.”

Jack G. Shaheen’s mother summed up the attitude we all must share towards cultural tolerance best in “The Media’s Image of Arabs” when he quoted her saying, “Have compassion for all people, Jackie. Stereotypes hurt." This is true across all cultures and ethnicities, and such as it was in my case, sometimes hurt physically too. Thankfully bumps and bruises eventually fade, but emotional and psychological scars can often leave a lasting impression that can span a lifetime.

Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination 

What cultural stereotyping have you been exposed to? Ever move from a big city to a small town? Or, vice versa?  

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Daniel Morgan: An Unlikely Hero

Daniel Morgan - Image by: Virginia Society
Daniel Morgan was a wild frontiersman, a letch, a drunk, a womanizer, a brawler, and a horse thief. You will not find his name in many American history books, yet without his cunning tactics, his courage under fire, his ability to lead untrained frontiersmen, and his bravery on the battlefield, its is very likely that the American Revolution would have been a dismal failure, and instead of enjoying the freedoms we cherish today, we would be under the thumb of British rule.
Morgan left home at a very young age after an altercation with is estranged father, and never returned. He eventually settled into the wild fringes of northwestern Virginia, where he earned many of his most unsavory reputations, but where he also established himself as a rugged, loyal, dependable, fearless, and tough as nails defender
of the frontier. Morgan was a large, and powerfully built man, with the stamina of a plow-mule, qualities which where only rivaled by his unwavering courage and unyielding will, both of which would be tested many times in his life.
The first such occurrence presented itself in 1755, when under the command of British General Burgoyne during the French-Indian War, Morgan received nearly 500 lashes for punching an officer in the gut. Such a brutal punishment for a count of insubordination was not uncommon in the British army. What was uncommon however, was for people to survive the savage beating; Daniel Morgan did. Even though he had been beaten to a bloody pulp, he did not let this act cripple his call to duty, as he recognized that ultimately he was in the wrong. As fate would have it, Morgan would have his chance for retribution on General Burgoyne, but for now his service to the Crown served his blood-thirst.
Morgan later rejoined the war effort as a colonel of the militia, where he performed duties for the Britain army that no man lacking in nerve would willingly endure. During one such excursion, Morgan had been on a scouting expedition deep into enemy territory, when he was ambushed by Indian troops. Morgan suffered a shot to the head during the fray, dislodging several of his teeth, and leaving a sizable rent in his jaw line. He escaped with his life intact, but only after the Indians gave up the chase after several miles of pursuit. Once again Morgan’s toughness and cunning served him well.
When the Revolutionary War broke out, a call to arms was sent out across the colonies for regiments of riflemen to join in on the “Siege of Boston." After receiving glowing praise from Continental General Horatio Gates to George Washington that Morgan’s “courage, conduct, and reverence for liberty,” made him the perfect candidate, Morgan was given the honor to captain one of two Virginian rifle regiments. Always eager and willing for a good fight, Daniel Morgan proudly accepted the charge, and rounded up 96 of the best sharpshooters from the surrounding areas of Winchester, and made his way to Boston in record time, arriving 5 days ahead of the next regiment, making Morgan’s troops the first to arrive in support of the newly formed Continental army. There, Morgan’s Sharpshooters, as they were later dubbed, inflicted terrible damage upon the British troops, “picking off sentries and stragglers and sending dignified officers scurrying for cover.” Never before had the British army faced off against a regiment of riflemen.
The rifle was a frontier weapon, and in the hands of a capable marksman, could kill a man more than 300 yards away. The British musket, on the other hand, was woefully inaccurate in comparison; with a capable range a fifth of that. However, where the smooth-bored British musket lacked in range and accuracy, it excelled in ranks of close range fighting, with its wicked bayonets, and the ability to be reloaded and fired nearly 3 times as fast as the rifle. While this advantage allowed the British army to eventually repel the Continental siege on Boston, it was a pyrrhic victory, losing nearly a third of their force to Morgan’s riflemen and the rest of the American army, while only inflicting minimal damage in return.
Even in defeat, Morgan’s ability to lead men did not go unnoticed, particularly by George Washington himself. As British troops began to amass in the southern reaches of Canada, Continental Congress devised a preemptive strike to thwart any attempt by Britain to stage a campaign from the north. To lead this gutsy mission, Washington chose General Richard Montgomery and Colonel Benedict Arnold, with Captain Morgan to lead three companies of riflemen under their charge. Little did they know that the British army would be the least of their concerns.
The plan called for Montgomery to take Montreal while Arnold and Morgan was to make their way northeast to stage an assault on Quebec after rendezvousing with Montgomery’s remaining force. In order to avoid British sentries and patrols that would otherwise alert the Quebec command of their approach, Arnold chose an uncharted route that took him into territories not even the local Indians would venture into; a choice that would cost him dearly. Morgan’s company of riflemen led the way, forging a trail ahead, while the rest of Arnold’s column followed in their wake. The journey was so long and treacherous, and the land so sparsely populated with wild game, that “the soldiers were reduced to eating dogs and leather” to survive. After a two and half month journey, Arnold finally arrived at the rendezvous point with only 600 of the 1000 men he started out with; Daniel Morgan being one of those men. Had it not been for Captain Daniel Morgan’s frontier experience, the trust and respect earned from his starving men, and his tenacious will, Arnold’s force would likely not have arrived at its destination, or lost entirely.
With Montgomery and Arnold reunited, the stage was set for an all out assault on Quebec, in hopes of crippling the British from staging a campaign from Canada. The plan, once again, was to split their force. A light artillery unit would create a diversion at the front gates, while General Montgomery was to take a company of men and flank the southern side of lower town, and Arnold to take a company of men and flank the northern side of lower town, then rendezvous in the center and take out any remaining resistance before moving on to Quebec proper.
On December 31st, 1775, in the wee hours of the morning and under the cover of a snowstorm, General Montgomery launched his attack. Not long into the battle, Colonel Benedict Arnold was hit the leg by enemy fire, and was taken out of the fight. Even though Morgan was not next in line to command, his superior officers unanimously chose him to take command and lead the charge, and that he did. After successfully navigating his men through a gauntlet of heavy musket and cannon fire, Captain Morgan finally made it to the first barricade of the compound, and ordered his men to scale the ladder of the high-wall and pierce the British defenses. No one, not even the remaining officers would dare climb the ladder, so Morgan led the charge himself. After reaching the top, a cannon blast sent him flying through the air, and he landed in a heap in the snow below. Miraculously, Morgan got to his feet and charged up the ladder again, this time however, he made it to the top unscathed, and single-handedly, leapt into a mass of British defenders. Immediately the bold commander came under heavy fire, but found refuge under the barrel of a cannon. The Brits converged on him in mass, shooting and stabbing at him with their bayonet ladened muskets, as Morgan staved off their advance, flaying his sword with reckless abandon. With the British troops focused on Morgan, the rest of his troops scaled the barricade virtually unnoticed, killing and capturing the defenders.
Having successfully defeated the British resistance in his quarter, Morgan and his troops eventually made it to their rendezvous point, and took up refuge in nearby buildings as they waited for Montgomery’s force to rally with them. Unfortunately, reinforcements would never come. Unbeknownst to Morgan, Montgomery had been killed early in the fight, and the officer who took command, cowardly retreated into the safety of the nearby forest, leaving Morgan and his men in a deathtrap. In the early morning of the New Year, severely out gunned and out manned, Morgan’s troops were forced to surrender, all save one. Facing impossible odds, Morgan, like a rabid caged beast, refused to give up the fight, flailing his sword as the British soldiers surrounded him. It wasn’t until a French priest talked Morgan into giving him his sword did the commander yield.
With the American strike forced stomped out, the British renewed their preparations for waging war. Then, under the command of British General John Burgoyne, the British army made their way south, with the plan of driving a wedge between the Continental Army, cutting off recourses, and effectively crippling their ability to wage war. With Morgan safely stowed away in a prison camp, General Burgoyne made short work of the American resistance, until the only thing left standing in his way from completing his mission was American General Horatio Gates, who was held up on a ridge in Saratoga, NY.
By this time, in the late summer of 1777, the American resistance was on the verge of total collapse. Small pox, starvation, desertion, and countless deaths had whittled what remained of the Continental Army down into a “barely disciplined mob” of desperate men. British General Sir William Howe had wrestled control of New York away from General George Washington, and the Royal Navy had free reign of the New England coastline with the ability to deliver troops anywhere they wanted at will. The outlook for the American Revolution was quite grim. However, George Washington was not willing to concede just yet. A successful prisoner exchange brought Daniel Morgan back into the Continental fold, and Washington wasted little time putting him to good use, sending him north as Colonel of a 500 riflemen unit to bolster General Gates’ last line of defense.
Morgan’s Sharpshooters were pivotal in turning the tide of the war. His riflemen harassed and punished General Burgoyne’s army to no end. Using the sanctuary of underbrush and the nearby woods, the Sharpshooters picked off officers from hundred of yards away, and single-handedly eliminated his artillery forces one unit at a time, paralyzing Burgoyne’s ability to bring cannons to the field of battle. But his harassment would not end there; under his command, Morgan’s men also eradicated any scouts or foragers they came across as well, effectively leaving Burgoyne blind of his enemies positions and fortifications, and his army half starved. In desperation, General Burgoyne made one last ditch effort to eradicate the entrenched rebels, but his army was routed, and eventually surrounded by Morgan and the rest of General Gate’s force.
Surrender of General Burgoyne by John Trumbull
In a famous painting by artist John Trumbull that depicts the formal surrender of Burgoyne to General Gates, Colonel Morgan is seen standing proudly in the foreground with a mask of smugness plastered across his face. Morgan finally got his revenge on Burgoyne. General Burgoyne had a long and illustrious military career that spanned more than forty years, starting with the “Seven Years War,” but his defeat at Saratoga was such and embarrassment to the Royal Army, that he was shunned into permanent retirement from the military. With the victory at Saratoga, also came the allegiance of the French. The victory was so sound, that it finally convinced “France to enter in the war as an ally of the fledgling United States.” The commitment from the French, although a boon in the fight for Independence, was not the end all to the war.
After his glowing success in Saratoga, Morgan became the victim of army politics, and was denied promotion to General in favor of Anthony Wayne from Pennsylvania; selected by Congress against the wishes of George Washington. Feeling unappreciated, Morgan retreated back to his home in Winchester. During his absence, the British army, under the command of General Charles Cornwallis, had completely swallowed up the southern colonies. Cornwallis had complete control of Georgia, South Carolina, and was on the verge of capturing all of North Carolina. Once again the American Revolution was on the verge of collapse, and once again Daniel Morgan was called to the rescue.
Seeing the error of their ways, Congress promoted Morgan to Brigadier General, which compelled him out of retirement. He was immediately dispatched to Charlotte, NC and put under the command of General Nathanael Greene. Greene had just been handed a sound defeat, and had come up lame in the process. He ordered Morgan to keep Cornwallis’ army at bay long enough for him to heal and rebuild his own forces. However, Morgan had other ideas. He drove his men south, deep into enemy territory of Georgia and then back into South Carolina, clearing the land of valuable resources and gathering up militiamen in his wake.
His efforts, however, did not go unnoticed by General Cornwallis, who dispatched his most prized commander, Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, to squash the pesky backwoods rebellion. Tarleton had command over the infamous British Legion, consisting of light cavalry and two regiments of British regulars. Tarleton had earned “the most formidable reputation of any British commander in the entire war,” with his uncanny ability to strike faster and harder than anyone. Morgan got wind of this, and planned on using Tarleton’s confidence and hastiness to his advantage.
After dragging Tarleton around the countryside for several weeks, Morgan finally found suitable ground to make is stand, in a place locals called the “Cowpens,” which was a patch of land that contained a cascade of rolling hills, flanked by forests, and butted up against a large flowing river. By this time, Morgan’s army had swelled to 1,000 men, nearly twice its starting size. However, only half of his army consisted of trained soldiers, the other half was comprised of militiaman, who were prone to break and run under the fiercely trained charge of British bayonets. Morgan had made concessions for that as well.
Morgan broke his army up into multiple ranks, coinciding with the cascading hills of the Cowpens, with riflemen strategically positioned in the tree lines flanking the battlefield, with his cavalry positioned in the rear. The last rank consisted of the core of his trained and seasoned regulars. The plan called for his militiaman, armed with rifles, to fire two shots then retreat over the hill and form up with the next line. The over confident British army would mistakenly take this as an all out route and give chase. When the Brits came over the hill, the next line would fire two shots, and again retreat to the next line until they had finally rejoined with the regulars, who would hold ground. While the British troops broke ranks in hot pursuit, the Sharpshooters positioned in the tree lines were ordered to pick off officers and stragglers.
The plan worked beautifully. Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton fell right into Morgan’s well-laid trap, “which resulted in a double envelopment.” After less than an hour of fighting, Tarleton’s army had been decimated, with Tarleton barely escaping with his own life. In toll, “the British lost 110 men and more than 200 more were wounded, while an additional 500 were captured. The American losses totaled only 12 killed, and 60 wounded.” His victory “at Cowpens is widely considered to be the tactical masterpiece of the war and one of the most successfully executed double envelopments of all of modern military history.”
The defeat at the Cowpens left Cornwallis without his coveted Legion and without his cavalry, severely hampering his ability to wage war against the Continental army. Eight months later Cornwallis would surrender his troops to General George Washington in York Town, effectively ending the Revolutionary War.”
After the war, Morgan spent one term in the House of Representatives as a Federalist, but his kind of raw patriotism was not well suited for politics. His only notable contribution while in office came when he became increasingly frustrated with Jeffersonian Democrats, and infamously dubbed them “a parcel of egg-sucking dogs.” While Morgan failed as a congressman, without his heroism there would not be a Congress; there would not be an America as we know it, and for that, we owe this patriot a great deal of gratitude.

Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination 

What are some of your historic heroes? Had you heard of Daniel Morgan before reading this?

Soldiers and Civilians

Tim O'Brien - UT  Ransom Center Archive
War is a necessary evil, despite what Edwin Starr’s lyrics to “War” might contend. Men and women have been waging war against each other since the beginning of time. In the 1960’s and 70’s Vietnam was the war predominantly occupying the hearts and minds of most Americans. The soldiers returning from Vietnam were treated very poorly. They were labeled “baby killers” and were spat upon when they walked the streets. They were protested against; marchers and angry mobs wanting to do them harm. They were driven from their homes and the towns they grew up in. They were denied benefits from the very country they swore to protect, which they clearly earned. Tim O’Brien’s short story “The Things They Carried” is a snap shot in time of what many of these soldiers had to endure during their commitment and sacrifice to defending our country; our rights, our freedom. Ironically enough, the soldiers in “The Things They Carried,” are in many ways not unlike the civilians who condemned them, even far removed from the bleakness of war.

Soldiers carry items that they deem necessary for everyday survival in the heart of the Vietcong jungles, like “chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, [and] lighters.” In the sprawls of American society civilians carry lipstick, cell phones, shopping lists, loose change, and condoms.” These things, these tangible items, are necessary survival tools for the urban jungle, so it seems. Humans carry many things that seem necessary, but really are not. Food, water, and shelter are really all one needs to survive, but civilians and soldiers alike, burden themselves to carry these other items because they seem essential to them.

Soldiers carry items according to their “rank, partly of field specialty,” like “a compass, maps, code books, binoculars.” Civilians carry items associated with their social rank and area of expertise too, like platinum cards, work badges, food stamps, Rolex watches, PDA’s, clipboards, whistles and unemployment checks. Like “field specialty” items to soldiers, what civilians carry can often signify what social class and rank they belong to, or at least labeled as such.

Soldiers carry things according to their mission, “mosquito netting, matches, canvas tarps, and extra bug juice.” Civilians carry stethoscopes, work gloves, gavels, pitchforks, jackhammers, book bags, and lottery tickets. These items identify civilians according to their mission, their purpose in life, not unlike the soldiers thousands of miles away in the heat of battle.

Soldiers carry items that are superstitious to them, like, “[a] good luck pebble,” or, “a rabbit’s foot,” or, “a thumb,” from a corpse of Vietcong boy. These items of seemingly insignificant weight sooth their minds, and souls, and add a psychological barrier to protect them against the elements of war. Civilians carry things like, crucifixes, lucky pennies, and lockets with their loved ones pictures in them. They carry their great, great grandmother’s wedding ring, something blue and something new, and good luck eyes to ward them against evil. They carry ashes of lost loved ones around their neck. Like soldiers, these items bring them peace of mind.

Soldiers carry themselves with “poise, [and] a kind of dignity.” Civilians carry themselves with pride when they show pictures of their children to unsuspecting strangers. They carry optimism when they take on a new challenge, accept a new job, loose five pounds, or swear in a new president. They carry affection and passion for a new love, for their husbands and wives, their children and grandchildren, and for their favorite football team. These are emotions; soldiers have them too.

Soldiers carry emotional baggage “of men who might die,” and “[g]rief, terror, love, [and] longing.” Civilians carry wrath when someone cuts them off the road, or a pesky neighbor plays their radio too loud, or when an inconsiderate patron has too many items in the express lane. They carry guilt when they are home, warm and safe in their beds, with a full belly, and with the confidence that they will rise in the morning with the promise of a new day, while their friends and family and fellow compatriots are off to war, not knowing whether they will live one moment to the next. These are pains of the heart that all men and women experience.

What O’Brien is craftily saying is that soldiers are not just machines designed to hump up “hills and through the swamps,” carrying all manner of implements of war that “[seem] appropriate as a means of killing or staying alive,” to fulfill missions and rage war. These soldiers, these men, are like civilians; they are human too.

Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination 

Know anyone who served in the Vietnam War? What about other wars?

Technology is a Many Headed Beast

Photo by: Witchfinder9
Technology is a many headed beast; a hydra of sorts. It has given us the ability to walk on the moon, to explore the depths of our greatest oceans, to climb the peaks of our highest mountain ranges, and to tame some of the most insidious diseases that have plagued our civilizations. It has also highlighted man’s weakest flaws: greed, narcissism, and arrogance. If history has taught us anything, it is that technology cannot save man from himself, and technology will be the doom of mankind if we do not tread lightly and change our ways.

One only needs to look at our ancient ancestors to comprehend this message. There have been many civilizations that have come before us that were ripe with technology: the Greeks, Romans, Mayans, Incans, and Egyptians. Where are they now? Relinquished to the curiosities of archaeologists and history books, there mighty presence is no more. Technology did not save these once powerful and technologically advanced civilizations; are we so arrogant as to think we will not suffer the same fate as them?

If one were to read the admonition offered up to us in Rachel Louise Carson’s article “The Obligation to Endure,” the warning signs are already there. According to Carson, with the advancement of technology that we posses today, now more than ever man has “the power to alter the nature of his world." The one advancement, or curse, that we have over our ancestors is that we now have possession and knowledge of nuclear power; but this has not come with a hefty price tag. Carson delivers a foreboding example of the destructive power of the waste of nuclear fallout in the form of Strontium 90, a deadly compound that seeps into the core of our bones and into our soils and waters systems, forever a reminder of its destructive power.

We can see these degenerative results even if we were to only look at what has befallen the family of author Terry Tempest Williams. In her article “The Clan of the One-Breasted Women” see recounts how she has lost several women in her family to breast cancer as a direct result of nuclear testing that took place above ground in the 1960’s near her hometown in Utah.

As an example of how advanced our ancestors were, the Mayan people possessed a calendar system so accurate it is equal to what we posses today. Interestingly enough their calendar stops in December of 2012. Did the Mayans leave a prophetic message behind? Chief Seattle summed up man’s predicament quite well in his letter to President Pierce in 1855, when he said, “Continue to contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste."

Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination

What do you think? Is Chief Seattle right? 

Forrest Gump: My Hero

Jenny and Forrest - Image:
Forrest Gump: An Insightful Review
“Forrest Gump” is an adaptation from a book with the same name written by Winston Groom. This brilliant movie, directed by Robert Zemeckis, is filled with iconic character archetypes and deeply rich metaphors, which take the viewer back to a time of American innocence and youth. A time when America was forced to grow up and face very real and challenging issues, with far-reaching and long lasting effects, that touched all Americans during that time; racism, drugs, political assassinations and the war in Vietnam.
The character Forrest Gump, masterfully played by Tom Hanks, represents this American innocence, this ignorant bliss that we all share as children. Our hearts and minds untainted by the poisons of humanity’s shortcomings. Jenny, played by Robin Wright Penn, represents the proverbial minefield of complicated social and political issues that divided most of the country during that tumultuous time in American history. Her inability to commit to Forrest is a personification echoed by America’s wavering commitment on its stance on drugs, racial rights, and the war in Vietnam.

Piney Creek Falls

Piney Creek Falls - Fall Creek Falls, TN
Your Waters run swift and pure
The thundering Falls drowns out
The Day
Shallow they might be
The Mist cleanses my Soul.
The Sun sets low on the gorge
Rays of Light seek me;
Blinds Me
Bright they might be
They Guide my Path.
Your Creation divine or happenstance
It matters not to me
From Chaos
Birth it might be
Your presence brings Peace.
Piney Creek Falls; Your Waters run swift and pure.

Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination 

Have you ever visited Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee? What other beautiful falls have you visited?

Dead Poet

Blackburn Cemetery - Pikeville, TN

Poetry is a measure of a man’s heart; a glimpse into his soul
Words congeal into hidden desires and unspoken truths
Capturing the essence of his being as he journeys through life
Each year passing liken to footsteps he treads upon the earth.

Many leave nĂ¡ a trace of their passing; memories lost forever
Some inspire and make hearts flutter and coo
But they too shall have their existence washed away
By the inescapable tides of time.

A rare few transcend the echoes of the ages
Their words fermenting in the annals of public record
The legacy of their imprint well defined and everlasting
The secret desire of all poets once they cross that threshold of no return.

Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination 

What dead poet's poetry do you read?