Tuesday, June 10, 2014

That Football Team from Washington D.C.

For a while now, there has been a simmering debate as to whether the mascot and nickname of Washington DC's NFL football team is offensive, should be changed, etc.

There are some who say it is a racial slur. Some say they don't care, and some say they like it. And among these some, frequently quoted, are "some" American Indians.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am (by family lore) part Cherokee. I don't know exactly how much, and I'm not unique in that regard. (Early settlers & Cherokee mixed it up quite a bit, apparently.) However, I am culturally "white" although I have a strong sympathy for Indian causes. I am also married to a wonderful woman who is a card-carrying member of The Confederated Tribes Of The Colville Reservation.

She, by the way, has little bearing on my opinion regarding this matter. For some time, I have wondered if the name of the team should be offensive.  (EDIT: By this I mean I am uncomfortable with the name, but I don't feel it is proper for me to impose my views on those I think should be offended.) After all, there are other names which invoke the American Indian, both professional and collegiate.  Chicago Blackhawks, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Florida Seminoles, etc.  Each has its own origin and history, and the Seminoles even have the blessing of the tribal leadership (although I've heard that some of the transplanted Oklahoma Seminoles feel their voices have not been heard.)

I could really digress here, into some of the caricatures of mascots and emblems... Chief Wahoo, the tomahawk chop, etc, but I'm trying to stay on topic.

NONE of the other professional teams, or college teams that I'm aware of, derive their name from a stereotypical physical trait of ANY ethnic group!

Blacks are not black, whites are not white, and Indians do not have red skin. I daresay that my skin is more red after a day in the sun than your typical ethnic Native American, but again, I digress. I will say that I think Washington's mascot is a handsome dude, and my primary irritation is the name, not the image. But others may disagree with me.

So here's a tangent, but I'll bring it back together again... I promise!  When speaking to complete strangers, or among mixed company, I tend to employ my "grandmother filter."  By that, I mean would I say something in her presence or not? How many times have you had a complete stranger just start throwing profanities & obscenities around with no thought of who is present? Perhaps you may think it makes me a wuss, but I gauge my audience. I don't cuss & swear until I know you better, and if you ask me to not do it, I try to refrain.

Likewise, at some point, I formulated an "Indian Filter" with regard to this issue. If I were walking through a predominantly Indian community, would I feel comfortable wearing a jacket with "REDSKINS" embroidered on it?

(Well, aside from the predominant fact that I'm a Steelers fan, the answer is NO!)

Would I feel comfortable going into a gathering place on or near a reservation, such as a bar, restaurant, community center, or even an IHS waiting room and start saying "How's it going, my redskin friends?"

Again, NO!

So as I was reading some threads on this issue, which go to and fro with opinions, some Native, some not, I was pleased to find this opinion which I will share from Deadspin.com:

EnduroDoug --> Kyle Wagner

Fucking litmus test time.

I'm in the midst of a round-the-world bicycle trip. I started in Seattle 80 days ago and sometime in my 2nd week, I found myself (with my wife) in a taco joint in Browning, MT — the capital of Blackfeet Nation.

I'm a Seahawks fan. Have been a Seahawks fan since moving to WA in 2002. But I grew up a Redskins fan in NJ. I stopped liking them after Darrel Green and Art Monk retired and Snyder signed Deion and Bruce Smith and, more importantly, took Jack Kent Cook's name off the stadium he paid for with his own money (according to my memory, don't quote me).

So I'm in this taco joint talking with these four Blackfeet guys about all sorts of shit, including football. The Seahawks just won the "Big Game" so it came up when I mentioned where I was from — that's right, SUCK IT — GO SEAHAWKS!!! — I digress. And one of them asked me if, when I lived out east, I had another favorite team.

I started to, instinctively, say the Redskins.

And then I realized where I was, who I was talking to, and said, the Giants.

THERE's YOUR FUCKING LITMUS TEST. THERE! I've got no white guilt. I think every other race/creed is just guilty as we are for all sorts of shit. Nobody's closet is empty. But I want Dan Snyder to go and stand in some bullshit taco joint in Browning, MT and tell a bunch of street walkers with their mangy ass collection of mutts, and the big-ass sticks they carry to beat off the dogs that ain't theirs, that he "owns" the Redskins. That would go over really well, I'm sure.

Here's a video that's supposed to air during the NBA finals in select markets:

Think about it. And if you're not willing to walk up to a person of apparent American Indian descent and call them Redskin (or Chief or Brave,) then perhaps it should not be done from the safety of your basement or amongst a crowd of 50,000 on any given Sunday.

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day, June 6th, 1944

For those who don't know, today marks the 70th anniversary of the day when the Allies invaded France to begin the final liberation of Europe from Hitler's tyranny and the horrors of The Holocaust.

I often reflect upon this, in particular because I was there immediately prior to the official 50th anniversary celebrations in 1994.  It's hard to believe that 20 years have passed since then.

This is a little commemorative plate I
bought in Normandy.

This is not intended to be a history lesson about the invasions. I have plenty of facts and figures, The History Channel is also full of them, there are more books than a kid has boogers, and movies have been made too. If you want to know more, and it is a fascinating topic in my opinion, seek those out. Or better yet, go there. That's what I did. This is about my experience and some of my observations.

I was stationed in the southern part of The Netherlands with NATO, and whenever I could, I took college classes, usually evenings. The University of Maryland has a large presence overseas, and in this case, they were offering a weekend seminar on the D-Day invasion. Trip to France, history credit, learn more about an interest of mine... HELLO!

So on the appointed day, I boarded a tour bus with a bunch of other service members, some civilian employees, and some of their family members.  Off we went.  Our instructor, whose name I will not give, was an extremely interesting person. He was an older gentleman, had a "crusty" attitude, and was not afraid to tell you his opinion.  I think he was retired U.S. Navy. He asked our names, and once the bus was underway, he proceeded to walk down the aisle, point and tell each of us our names. I soon learned this man was a human encyclopedia. I was fortunate to have him on another similar trip for a different battle later on.

There was also a WW II veteran accompanying us. I don't know if he was taking the class, or if he had made other arrangements. He had served as an engineer in Lt. General George S. Patton's 3rd Army. What an honor to have a man like that with us!

The trip was largely uneventful, although at a lunch stop we did encounter a bunch of rude French folk (surprise?) and our instructor ranted about it for a while once we were back on the bus.

Another memory that I shall never forget is from a rest stop.  While sitting there, I saw a Chevy Corvette. Now, American cars were not all that common in Europe, and some consider them a status symbol.  My landlord drove an 80s Chevy Caprice and treated it like a Cadillac. So to see a relatively new Corvette at a motorway rest stop in France was a surprise. To see it towing a camper was blasphemy. I'm not talking a teardrop camper. I mean a 20 foot or so camper.  Sheesh. My cameras were stashed, otherwise I'd have taken a photo.

(Speaking of which, this predates cell-phone cameras, digital cameras were prohibitively expensive, and I'd left my 35mm SLR at home and only had a couple of disposables; so I'm relying on some internet photos, with a sprinkling of my own.)

Having poked my head into a few countries in Europe, I've seen a bit of anti-American sentiment, so I wasn't expecting a lot of regard for the upcoming 50th anniversary.

I was wrong.  Every little town and village in Normandy was bedecked with red, white & blue. American flags were everywhere.  They even had a mannequin of Pvt. John Steele hanging from the church steeple in Ste-Mère-Église:

Pvt. John Steele mannequin
(If you watch the movie The Longest Day, you'll see his story; his parachute snagged and he wound up hanging there for a long time, being deafened by the church bells before being captured.) I think this tribute is on display year-round.

Very touching to me was this next item.  Inside the church, you'll see some unique stained glass:

Stained glass of church in Ste-Mère-Église

Look closely (click for a larger version.)  Those are parachutes, and paratroopers alongside the Virgin and Child.  Think about the symbolism. To those in that town who are religious, their saviors are Christ, the Virgin... and paratroops.

Now I'm going to address 3 of the many issues that made an impression on me.

1) Prior to the invasion, massive amounts of bombs fell and Naval guns fired upon Hitler's "Atlantic Wall."  It must have been hell to be German soldier that morning. One location in particular has been preserved as closely as possible to the way it looked back then. Pointe du Hoc is atop a cliff and sticks out into the sea, and there were some huge guns installed there in concrete bunkers.  It should have been blown to smithereens, but enough Germans survived to put up a fight against the Army Rangers who scaled the cliff with ropes & ladders in order to destroy the guns.

Here are 3 photos I took (click for larger):

This is one of the bunkers, with some damage.

This is what's left of another one.

And this is a ground view of the "rolling hills" left by bombs & shells.

But you don't get a true idea unless you see the former lunar landscape from the air:

Pointe du Hoc from the air.

2) I was struck by the width of the beaches. The Allies had to cross these beaches, covered with anti-landing craft and anti-tank obstacles, mines, bodies, wrecked equipment, all in the face of German machine gun fire, artillery, and mortars. I'm sure that every one of those men wanted to somehow merge with the sand and be as tall as a doormat... but thousands of them moved forward, running, crawling, crouching... and some fell.

Normandy (Omaha Beach)
3) And for those who fell, many ended up here.  At the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, located at Colleville-sur-Mer, overlooking the beach.

To appreciate the scale, one must view it from the air:

There are 9,387 graves here. They did not all die on D-Day, some died in subsequent weeks following the invasion in other fighting, but that is only a portion of the total originally interred. Many were repatriated back to their homes at the request of their families.

After we had a chance to look around, we held an impromptu ceremony at the statue overlooking the cemetery. Our WW II vet laid a wreath at the base of the statue.

“The Spirit of American Youth Rising From the Waves”
I have visited several military cemeteries, and I am always moved. I will never forget that trip, nor the men who fought and died there. I hope others remember also.