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Last updateFri, 12 Oct 2018 11am

Vet’s Day: A new book on Vietnam tells us something about warfare today, using the brutal past errors of military ego

“Even now, the easiest way to get into an argument at a VFW (or an American Legion) bar is to mention Vietnam. Seared into all who fought it – and many who merely lived through it – that conflict remains a bitter stew of second-guessing and recriminations”

– Time magazine’s Mark Thompson talking with author Lewis Sorley


Mexico: Revolution fallout, uprisings, a presidential assassination, forced mass US deportations of its citizens

Mexico never had a chance to recover from the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, writes a Houston historian. That war ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. For 15 million dollars, Mexico ceded some 55 percent of its prewar territory to the United States. A tight-fisted U.S. Congress said it was too much. The Treaty gave the U.S. what became all or part of the states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, the entire State of Texas that then included part of Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma and New Mexico. The remaining southern part of Arizona, and part of southern New Mexico were purchased by the June 8, 1854, Gadsen Purchase for ten million. Near-endless negotiations were the job of Nicholas Trist, chief clerk of the U.S. State Department. Trist persisted even after he was fired by the impatient President James K. Polk. The Treaty was signed by Trist, a civilian without official authority, and a Mexican federal representative. Congress whined about “formality.” But the deal was too good: Trist’s treaty was ratified.

The Great Depression: A record more relevant than today’s electronic media present might come from one who was there, unready and puzzled

Early last Saturday a sombreroed older man bought three cigarettes at Nacho Gutierez’s ample Aborrotes El Oso across from the Jocotepec municipal market. In line at the cash register a woman asked for two aspirina. Just down the street a bit later a child peeked over the splintered counter of a tiny store to ask for seven pesos of manteca (lard).

Awash in hurricane-fed rains, cerro campesinos say ‘The earth does not lie,’ using ancient and new ways to deal with it

Paco Estrada Ruiz stood in a light rain Monday morning, swearing quietly. He is part of a family clan of campesinos whose ample, but modest ranch sets mostly on a steep twist of Jalisco highlands southeast of Guadalajara. It was a region treated unkindly by weather this growing season. Paco spat into the drizzle. Sunday had smiled with a convincingly lying sunny sky. Today’s rain was swearworthy, but not totally unexpected this loco year.

Mexico welcomed the US prohibition, which brought investors, fun-seeking visitors and boosted binational relations

Ken Burns, whose 1990 television series on the U.S. Civil War changed the way documentaries were perceived, presented a five-and-a-half-hour production, “Prohibition,” on the PBS network last week.  Many readers may have heard vivid tales of that 1919-1933 period. Older relatives have told children and grandchildren those stories for decades, a history that has been passed down. It was called a “disastrous experiment,” one that numerous cultural analysts and journalists are noting is clearly pertinent today. Many refer to philosopher George Santayana’s admonition about “learning from past or being condemned to repeat it.”

Myths, dicey things, can unite a nation or lead to a self-delusion. Some are clearly fabricated and used to mislead

Soldiers — celebrated with soaring hosannas that foster myths once war is over — have been treated by their commanders for much of history as what in now known as “cannon fodder.” Military personnel, during most of the world’s great wars were issued no IDs, so identification of the dead, was chancy. Identification tags, weren’t issued until sometime in 1914.

All nations, certainly Mexico, cherish myths; and some, everywhere, have a hard time enduring close historical investigation

All societies and individuals possess, consciously and unconsciously, a lexicon of myths. Historically, most youngsters embrace a central myth of youth — they are invincible — apart from their societies’ widely held concepts of immortality in various forms. Some myths come from a dense pre-historic past.

In Western cultures other myths are made immortal themselves by Greek, Latin and biblical literature. While a great many people today believe myths are no longer useful, they operate in cultures that deny them while subliminally utilizing them. The iconic “modern” example of course is George Lucas’ artful use of Goethe’s instructive Faust myth in “Star Wars” and its myriad cultural offspring about the universal hero. And in our modern midst are judges clad not in business suits, but draped in “magisterial” robes straight out Greek mythology and time. If being a judge in modern society were considered a mere “role,” the garb would be a CEO’s pin-stripe suit. “For law to hold authority beyond mere coercion, the power of a judge must be ritualized, mythologized. As does much of modern life today, from religion and war to love and death,” one cultural analyst has pointed out.