It All Started at Columbia

by Jean Stimmell I need to vent about the college protests. I am beside myself, appalled at my country’s unconditional military support of Israel’s continuing slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. I have first-hand knowledge about protest and war during the Vietnam era, first as a hapless bystander, then a direct participant in the war, and afterward, as a protester against the war. And it all started at Columbia. When I started at Columbia as a freshman in 1963, it still felt like the 1950s: I had to sign a loyalty oath pledging I was a loyal American, left over from the communist hysteria during the …

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Sorrow, grief, and trouble sit like vultures on my psychic fence

by Jean Stimmell A few years ago, I photographed five vultures attempting to warm up on a cold winter morning by spreading their wings toward the sun. I am using it to illustrate this rant. The title⁠1 reflects how I feel. I can’t get images of maimed and bloody bodies out of my mind, first in Ukraine and now doubling down in Israel and Palestine. They are broadcast nonstop on the news and haunt my dreams. Especially disturbing are the corpses of dead babies. As I write this, 4104 children have been killed so far, just in Gaza, according to the United Nations.⁠2 Seeing their …

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War: What Is It Good For?

by Jean Stimmell In 2002, Vernon Klinkenborg, known for his odes to country living, wrote The Rural Life, assigning a chapter to each month of the year. In his November entry, he veers off subject, observing that World War I veterans “are impossibly old by now.” He appears to be making reference to what we now call Veterans Day, celebrated on November 11—but first observed in 1919 on the first anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I. Rather than dismissing these old-timers, Klinkenborg argues, we should bring them front and center to remind us of “the intractable knowledge that comes from a place …

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How Vietnam got under America’s callused cowboy skin

by Jean Stimmell Because America chose to wage a war in Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh was exiled from his country and ended up a renowned spiritual teacher and peacemaker, instrumental in mellowing our macho culture. It was even more of a turnaround for Ocean Vuong, the acclaimed writer and poet: He tells us he literally wouldn’t exist without the Vietnam War. That’s because his grandfather, an American soldier fighting in Vietnam, met his grandmother, “a girl from the rice paddies,” ⁠1 and married her. And then, there’s me: a hapless 19-year-old who stumbled into Vietnam after dropping out of college. I enlisted before the big …

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One For All, And All For One

by Jean Stimmell I was mesmerized by a scene I saw on TV at the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine: A group of neighbors with rifles guarding a suburban street leading into Kyiv against approaching tanks, their faces illuminated by fires they had lit in trashcans to keep warm, fearless and immovable, belting out in unison the Ukrainian National Anthem. When everything is on the line, we forget our differences and come together as one.  Of course, we do: as social animals, it has been bred into us. That’s why we have survived as a species. Although much less dire, I once was …

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Edited by Real Life

by Jean Stimmell Last month I started a column contending that, emotionally speaking, events in the 1960s were as disjointed and perilous as the existential angst we face today. My mind had flashed back to those olden days as I cut kindling with my hatchet to start the first fire of the season with wood I had harvested off my land. The war in Vietnam War raged. Each day the news reported, like a sports score, how many of the enemy we had killed, as if that number justified the death of many of our brothers and sisters who also became cannon fodder that day. …

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