Letter from California
07/06/06 0645.22 pst
San Jose, California
Seen through the prism of my populist economics and daily horror of the Iraq war I went to a very unlikely place for my Fourth of July family frolic: Coronado, California, at the swanky Hotel Del, to be exact, an ocean view complimenting the good acoustic live music and gentle surf.
Coronado is one of the most martial cites in the United States, the bulwark and hub for San Diego harbor, which at a few glances still hosts 2 amphibious assault groups, an aircraft carrier, Coronado naval air, a submarine base and a marine recruit depot, for starters. Coronado is in many ways idyllic with fine weather and architecture; four generations of retired and active Navy personnel take very good care of a sparkling gem of a city.
Grateful to Billmon for the fascinating The New American Militarism, How Americans are Seduced by War tucked into my computer bag I trudged along, heavily laden down with the family in tow, finally dumping a mound of luggage into an absurdly expensive room. The fools I used to work for were stupid enough to throw stock options at me so it was okay to blow a little of it on such rank friviolity, I kept rationalizing to my wife, who was unabashedly delighted to blend with it all.
After a few days of fun in the surf and the pool we camped out early for the parade, a tiny slice of Americana July Fourth scripted by Rockwell: lily-white crowd five deep at the sidewalks, cheering and applauding the crisp, shiny Marine and Navy marching bands, thunderously grateful for any active duty marine or sailor in the parade, flags, kids and dogs everywhere.
Semi-moody with the scene, wondering how many schools we could build with an aircraft carrier and thinking of Digby looking over the 99% white crowd (California is not overtly racist, not hardly, but it was still disconcerting to see American circumstances so exclusive to race produce that reality all around you) I was soon relieved to see some small events that raised my spirits.
The first was when the POW Never Forget contingent came by, active duty marines prodding a “POW,” chained and hooded. As they came around the final corner the crowd instantly hushed; the reverence for POW’s was there, of course, but it was also a vivid reminder of Abu Ghraib, the costumed POW looked exactly like a hooded Iraqi prisoner being tortured. No one said a thing for sixty seconds until they went by, almost all gravely staring ahead. Uncomfortable truth and reality can intrude in the most unlikely circumstances.
Then, amazingly, the Coronado Democratic Club marched by, proudly carrying banners in colorful shirts. I laughed, cheering loudly, while my wife told me to hush—a hundred faces looked upon us in quizzical silence. I loved it, but my wife is always mortified by these provocative, public political moments. The Republican club bailed on the parade.
Then out of nowhere these Asian marchers is brilliant yellow robes marched by to strange, wailing music. I was sure they must be some Vietnamese immigrant group, whaddaya know, but it turned out they were some peace foundation, actually, marching by with these big banners espousing peace and harmony above all. In the middle of the helicopters, P-51 flyovers, assault vehicles and hummers here was Peace. It was a fleeting appearance indeed—by the time everyone figured out what they were they were almost gone—but it was still there.
I wish more companies of marines and sailors would have marched by—the few that did were rapturously received. One could sense an edge of relief with the loud gratitude—this boy was alive and well. Too many were not, and indeed, the handsome marine in front of you could well be dead in a year. The crowd was worried about the men and women serving, it was obvious, and would have liked to have thanked a lot more.
Behind all the extremely dangerous elements of modern American militarism there is a human base to it all, men, women and whole families totally committed to military service, no matter who is president. Who they are and what they love is not so different from my passions and behavior, not really, and their sacrifices are real, terribly real sometimes. It was good to remember that as I blunder around in my absurdly comfortable existence.
The fireworks were excellent, of course, and the next morning it was time to come home. California’s particular glory of gold sunshine reigns forth every day, illusory complacency beaming from the state as it enjoys its annual summer fun. I noticed that many of my brothers and sisters were very down on the holiday on the blogs, but I enjoyed mine. California is always worth a venture, no matter how incongruous the circumstances.