Letter From New York November 12, 2009

Or: As it seems to me

It was Election Day recently, the first Tuesday in November. Since then it seems all political pundits are attempting to read the runes of this just past election to see what it says about the state of the nation: who is up? who is down? Did the defeat of Corzine in New Jersey mean that the nation was turning against Obama? Or did the election of a Democrat in New York’s 23rd District, the first since 1852, signal deep trouble for the Republicans? Ah… my guess is that come the next election pundits will still be parsing this one.

Me? I was voter number two at my polling place, the A. B. Shaw Fire Station at the juncture of 9H and 23, there before dawn broke and certainly before my morning caffeine had effectively coursed its way through my body. However, I was prepared and knew for whom I was going to vote, having read and studied in the week before as I attempted to be a responsible voter. This election was all about the local politics and for the first time in many years it seemed possible that some new blood could be elected to the Board of Supervisors. As I write this, two of the people I voted for have gone down to defeat and one is leading by a razor thin majority. It will take days to resolve this one. The differential is as few as seven votes to possibly twenty-one, depending on which report you read. It is a classic example of why every vote counts and why I am gratified I made the effort to get home to vote. Based on what’s happening, my vote counted.

What happens, unfortunately, in democracies, especially big democracies, is that people discount the fact their vote matters. The closeness of our local election underscores the democratic principle – a single vote counts.

While waiting for resolution to the local election of the week just past, we have celebrated November 11th, Veterans Day, celebrated on this day because on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, soldiers put down their weapons to end the “war to end all wars,” commonly known now as World War I. It is a moment to honor all veterans, all the men and women who have put themselves in harm’s way for the safety of this our democracy [see above about the importance of voting]. I heard the last living veteran of WWI passed away recently – a moment to give us pause – as we are now in some real way disconnected from a conflict that shaped much of the world in which we live, even if we don’t think much about it. There will come a time when the last living veteran of WWII will pass away and we will become disconnected from that conflict which, too, shaped the world in which we are living. There will be a time when the last living vet from Korea will go, from Viet Nam, from Iraq…

History is, unfortunately, made in conflict. And we should capture those voices while we can as there is much to be learned from them, even the smallest recollection enhances our understanding of the human experience, shaped in conflict. Stephen Spielberg has created the Shoah Foundation to capture on video all the stories he can of the Holocaust. Perhaps we should be capturing the history of those who have fought because in understanding what they have endured we might find reasons to not fight in the future…

The lessons to be learned from combat are in the forefront of our minds this week, due to the devastating events at Fort Hood, where many of the victims were preparing for deployment in Afghanistan to help soldiers deal with the stress of warfare.

The glory of war is often told, all the way back to the Iliad and beyond but now we are facing the price of war on the field of battle.

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