Saturday, August 20, 2005

From One Who Was There

Edward H. Hawkins is my partner, mentor, and office sage. An artist, Merchant Marine, writer, film producer, and business consultant, he provides a unique perspective from one who was there. The one thing we learn from history is that we don't learn from history. Sometimes it pays to just listen....

All at once, it's 1936. I'm twelve years old and sitting in my father's insurance office, listening to him and his friends talking about Germany rearming and that fellow, Winston Churchill. A soft voice made husky by mustard gas of World War One says:

"Everyone knows Germany is rearming. Adolph Hitler is building airplanes again"

"What's the matter with the League of Nations? Don't they realize that all this rearmament is against the provisions of the Versailles Treaty?"

"What about the damn Japanese? They're striding down the Malaysian Peninsula like it's their own country! All they want is the oil in Southeast Asia. Everyone knows that."

"Hell! Nobody's gonna do anything about either the Germans or the Japanese. Congress and Roosevelt have got the election to think about this year. They didn't do anything about Italy and Mussolini invading Ethiopia. What makes you think they're going to do anything now?"

"I think we ought to stop Hitler right now before he and the German army gets any stronger. First thing you know, he'll be marching into Belgium and Holland just like the Germans did in 1914."

Voices strong and vibrant to my immature ears. I didn't like what I heard next.

"We don't have to worry none. It'll be Eddie, here, and his friends who'll fight the next war."

I choked slightly on my Mars candy bar and swallowed hard on my sip of RC Cola. I didn't want to think about dying, but I knew the men were right.


The time changed to 1941. The voices continued. "Damn Japanese. What the hell did they think they was doin' bombing Pearl Harbor?"

"Why didn't we know the Japs were acomin'?" Where was our Naval Intelligence? Those fellas in Washington musta had their heads up their ass!"

"Now, Joe. Roosevelt has been trying to warn us for two years....ever since Hitler invaded France. Nobody listened to him."

"Congress is just as bad. When the Germans were bombing buildings in London, you'd think those peace lovin' shitheads in Congress would of woke up. All they'll do now is hold an investigation and blame some poor general or admiral. Did ja hear Edward R. Murrow on the radio last night broadcastin' from London. It's gettin' fierce over there."

"Is anybody listening?"

"Naw. The French could of stopped the Bache long ago. Wonder why they didn't."

"They're French."

"Nuff said."


A new voice - Hollandia, New Guinea, South Pacific. From the ship's captain on the bridge to me in the crow's nest lookout tub atop the foremast of the S.S. Gulfwax, oil tanker:

"Hawkins, we're entering the harbor now. Keep a sharp lookout for debris."

"Aye, aye, Sir. Oh, shit."


"Captain, there's bodies all over, floating in the water!"

"Of course. We've just secured the island. The marines landed here three days ago."

The water is littered with bodies. Some are bloody, some are partially ripped apart, some are already bloating. Jesus H. Christ.......!

I choke back the vomit. The stomach acid stings my throat. I swallow. I can't lean over the side of the lookout tub and let go the puke. Members of the deck gang are below, already attaching the hoses to the tank valves in preparation for unloading. I crank the intercom to the bridge.

"Captain, there's a big group of bodies dead ahead."

"Can you make out? American or Japanese?"

"Japanese, I think. The uniforms are green."

"Good. We'll plow through them and grind them up in the propeller. Good riddance."

I watch the bodies drift by the sides of the ship and into the stern screw. I shut my eyes, hoping I never dream about this later, knowing full well I certainly will.


A new voice - North Atlantic - 1943:

"Hard right, Hawkins. Steer 090, due east. The convoy's turning to starboard. There's German subs out there. Look at those Canadian Corvettes go. Must be makin' twenty, thirty knots."

A speaker crackles:

"Periscope, two degrees on the port bow!"

"Hard left, Hawkins. Turn the son-of-bitch! Full ahead. Where the hell are those Corvettes?"

"Oh, shit. Here it comes. Sweet Jesus. It just missed us. Steer it back to 090, Hawkins."

"When this war ends I hope Americans figure out how to recognize evil and evil men and do something about it before it becomes bigger and stronger."


Different voices. Sitting around in my Welton Street film production office in Denver, drinking Coors - 1950.

"Ed, did you hear. President Truman says North Korea has invaded South Korea. Where's your map. You were in the Pacific in WW Two. Where the hell is Korea?"

"Don't worry. The United Nations will take care of those commies."

"Naw. It'll be American G.I.s that'll take the brunt of this one. You wait and see."

"Where was our intelligence? Why didn't we know about this? What's Congress doing? Who the hell is minding the store in Washington? Are you going to re-activate your commission?"

Wife's voice: "Ed, you're not going back to sea. Let someone else do it. You served your time. Besides, you've got two new movie contracts."


Sound of sound stage door opening. Voices shouting:

"Kennedy just said that the Soviets have missile bases on Cuba. He's called for a blockade to stop the ships heading toward Cuba. This is it, Hawkins. Nuclear war. Get set."

"What the hell do the Soviets think they're doing?"

"Where was the CIA? Why didn't we know about this sooner?"

"We did. But no one would believe President Kennedy until he showed 'em pictures. Now we have photographs. The missile silos are there."

"Why didn't we take out that commie bastard, Castro, when we had the chance?"

"That's a good way to start a war, dumbo."

"Whatya think this is, chess?"

"Let's all hope so."

Voices, strong, scared.


Other voices - 1965 - "President Johnson says the damn North Vietnamese fired on one of our ships in the Gulf ofTonkin."

"What the hell are those damn kooks thinking of?"

"Where was the CIA? Our so-called 'advisers'. Whose minding the store in Washington?"

"We should have bombed the crap out of those commie kooks when we had the chance. Now, some of the peaceniks in Congress want to negotiate. Where's George Patton when we need him?"

"He's dead."

"Oh, damn!"


Strained voices - 1992 - my office; "Saddam Hussein just invaded Kuwait!"

"Who the hell is Saddam Hussein?"

"Ya know, Iraq."

"You mean Iran."

"Naw, Iraq. The dictator. Just like Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin. He's killing his own people with chemical weapons."

"What do we care?"

"Oil, mister. Oil. Iraq has the largest army in the Middle East. They can take over Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, and control all the oil."


"Ya like freezing to death in the dark, ole buddy?"

"What did Jack Kennedy say about oil: 'Any country that runs on oil, better not run out!'"

"What's President Bush saying?"

"He's going to the United Nations."

"What the hell for?"

"He wants the U.N. to pass a resolution and build a coalition of other countries."

"You're kidding."

"Yeah, seriously. Congress is behind him."

"That's where they always the rear."

"Well, how did Iraq get away with it. Where was our CIA. Where was our spies. Couldn't we have stopped this Hussein character early on? Who the hell is minding the store in Washington?"

"Are we going to send in troops, bombers, helicopters?

"Guess so."

"It's always us, ain't it?"


"Where's Harry Truman when we need him."

"He's dead."

"Oh, damn."


I'm listening intently. I'm hearing voices all over again. Different voices. New words. Frightened words - 2001.

"Turn on the television. A plane just hit one of the World Trade Center towers!"

"A second tower has been hit."

"A plane just flew into the Pentagon!"

"What the hell is happening?"

"They say it's a group called 'Al Qaeda' Ya know, the Taliban from Afghanistan."

"Who the hell are they?"

"Islamic ragheads. The same ones that bombed the Trade Center in 1993. A fella named Osama Bin Laden is the leader."

"What the hell do they think they're doing?"

"They don't like us."


"What does the President say?"

"He says we're gonna get 'em."

"Where was the CIA? Where was our intelligence? Who's minding the store in Washington?"


A different, quieter voice - 2002.

"The President says that Saddam Hussein will have a nuclear bomb in a few months and that he already has biological weapons."

"I thought the U.N. took care of this character when we wupped his ass in 1993. Signed a
treaty that made him give up his weapons."

"Yep. That's what we did. Put in weapon inspectors and all"

"What happened."

"The U.N. didn't follow through. Hussein tossed out the inspectors on their butts."

"What's the President gonna do?"

"He wants to go kill the bastard."

"Good for him. What's stopping him?"

"Some members of Congress want him to go get approval from the U.N."

"What the hell for?"

"They think it's the proper, legal thing to do."

"Legal, smegal. They could kill us all in the meantime. Where is George Patton when we need him?"

"He's dead."

"Still dead, huh?"

"We will be too, if we just sit and do nuttin."

"Yeah. It's a real problem, ain't it."

"Are we going to go get him or wait 'til he comes to us."

"I dunno. It's up to Congress and the President."

"There's a pair to draw to......."

"...And the U.N."

"Ah, the Joker in the game."

"Yeah. And it's still a problem, ain't it!"

"Well, the President warned us. Think we'll listen this time?"

"Hell no. No more'n than the Brits listened to Churchill, or we listened to Roosevelt or Kennedy or.....Truman or Reagan or Bush One." Sigh.

"Where's Winston Churchill when we need him."

"He's dead"

"Still dead, huh?."


"Jack Kennedy?"

"He's dead, too."

"George Washington?"

"Yeah. Him too."


"Yeah.......I think so."

"Ain't we got any leaders left?"

"Michael Jackson......."

"Oh, damn."

"How about Dubya, the Prez? What's he say?"

"He said: 'If Iraq gains even greater destructive power, nations in the Middle East would
face blackmail, intimidation, or attack. Chaos in that region would be felt in Europe and beyond....Those who choose to live in denial may eventually be forced to live in fear'."

"Think anybody will listen to him?"

"Nope. Nobody listened to those other guys either when they warned about evil threats from evil men."

"Well, Dubya ain't no Churchill!"

"Can you be sure? Do you want to take the chance?"

"Naw. Guess not."

"Think there'll be protesters in the streets?"

"Oh, hell, yes. Aren't there always?"

"Protesters never won a war."

"Yeah, they don't fight and die either."

"Of course. That's the idea of protestin'. Ya don't have ta die."

"You know what Gen. Patton said....."

"Yeah, yeah. I remember.....make the other poor bastard die fer his country."

"Where's Patton when we need him to kick the asses of the protesters?"

"He's dead."

"Still dead, huh?"




The voices recede. I'm driving home in my car thinking about 1936 and my father's friends. I turn on the radio. It's election time. Voices advise me to call some darn politician and tell him to quit ruining Social Security, to quit lying, to tell the truth, to quit taking money from special interests......

I'm frustrated. I switch to the CD player. A remastered CD of the voice of a 1960's ballad singer comes through the speaker:

"When will they ever learn; when will they.....ever learn.
The answer, my friend, is blowin’in the wind.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind."

I turn the corner leading to my house. The voices of the past echo in my 78 year-old ears, clogged with the earwax of disgust.

"The answer is blowin’ in the wind."


New voices. Angry voices. Political voices. 2004. Election Year. I'm having a drink at my favorite bar. A voice from the left chimes in.

"Have you heard about that new dirty book claiming that John Kerry was lying about his Vietnam experiences? Jes', what a slam book. Bunch of lies."

"What book?" a voice down the bar on the right chirps up.

"It's called 'Unfit For Command. - Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry.' It
proves that Kerry was lying about his medals, ya know....Purple Hearts, Silver Star and Bronze Star."

"Proof, shit. It's a slam book, a dirty political book!"

The voice from the left down the bar was vehement. "Oh, like "Fahrenheit 9-11". The slam book and movie about Bush and how he lied."

"It ain't the same. Bush was lyin'. Kerry was telling the truth."

"How about the 250 Vietnam Swift Boat vets that were in the same place as Kerry. All of them aren't lying. And one of 'em is an admiral. Get real."

"Aw, they're all just being run by the Republican National Committee and Bush's cronies."

"All Bush supporters, huh?"

"Yep. Bought and paid for by Bush."

"And that fat-ass movie author, Michael Moore, and that toilet mouth, Oprah Winfrey, are not bought and paid for by Kerry's cronies."

"Naw. They're all independent. Kerry doesn't have any control over them."

"Horse shit. Where you been hiding? And all them Vietnam vets are controlled by Bush?"

"Sure. And Bush ought to tell them guys to stop those lying dirty television ads"

"What about the past six months of lying dirty television political ads about Bush up to the Democrat convention."

"Those were the truth."

"And the 250 vets aren't tellin' the truth?"

"Naw. They're lying through their teeth. They're all Bush supporters."

"And Kerry's swift boat guys, Michael Moore and Oprah and all them Hollywood queer-eyes aren't Kerry supporters?"

"Yeah. But it's a free country. First amendment says they can say whatever they please."

"But, let me get this straight...the 250 Vietnam vets can't say whatever they want to."

"Sure they can say it, even if they are lies."

"You must be a democrat."

"Sure I am. What'd think I was, a Socialist?"

"It crossed my mind. Have another beer. I'm buyin'. How about a Coors?"

"I don't drink fascist beer."

"Okay, how about a Heineken?"

"That's better."

"From Socialist Holland."

"You're buyin'. Pay the lady."

"Okay. But Bush is gonna win."

"Like hell. Kerry's gonna win."

"Good thing you're wearing flip-flop sandals. Kerry would be proud. Bush was right about the war, though."


"He's doing the same thing Gen. Patton would have done."

"Patton's dead."

"Still dead, huh."


"He's dead, too."

"Well, how about Truman and Korea. We still have soldiers on the DMZ and North Korea is threatening nuclear weapons."

"Shut up and drink."

The sound of bottles clinking echoed as I walked out. Funny thing. I got in my car, turned on the radio to my favorite folk music station and the music of the old Kingston Trio came through the speaker,

"The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.....the answer is blowin' in the wind."

War, Iraq, Iran, London, Moscow, Washington, the cold North Atlantic ocean and the hot, miserable South Pacific jungle rot seemed far away. Politics had quieted. The voices had softened and poor old Charley was still trying to get off the MTA.

Tomorrow is my 80th birthday. Thank God for something that makes sense.

Ed Hawkins - August 19, 2004.

© 2004 Edward H. Hawkins


What'd ya think I'm going to be writing here in 2006? I'll copy ya then. Bye.

Ed Hawkins - August 18, 2005

© 2005 (renewed) Edward H. Hawkins

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