A part of Cemetery Ridge on a moonlit night.

I’ve never been here before. Never seen the battlefields or the gravestones. Never stood in the place where Lincoln made his eloquent speech.

But I’ve always wanted to come to Gettysburg, to see this historic place and to feel my feet stepping on the earth that has absorbed so much death.

Lately I’ve wanted to come to try to make sense of what happened. As I watch the anger and bitterness rising between Americans these days, I’m afraid that it may be too late for us to learn history’s lessons.

So here I am, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I came with my husband and two friends. We read the books and watched the movies and documentaries. And now we have toured the battlefields.

The zig-zag fences that stand today look just like the ones that ran across these fields in 1863.

I have been left with so many questions, and so many emotions.

I know that this happened.

But I can’t understand it.

I mean, I know the economic reasons for the war. I understand the political forces.

But I don’t know how actual human beings could have ever believed that it was the right thing to do to murder each other for a political cause.

I stood there on the beautiful hillsides of Cemetery Ridge and Seminary Ridge, where thousands of young Americans faced each other across the green fields, each side waiting for the other to attack.

Gettysburg’s green fields.

I stood on Little Round Top and Big Round Top, and put my hands on the stones and the trees that must have stood there on that terrible day in July of 1863. I thought about the blood that had soaked into that ground. I thought about the trees that had been torn up by mortar fire, and the animals that must have run desperately for safety.

But mostly I thought about all of those young men. All of those boys.

I thought about them dying in the very spot where I stood.


Gettysburg is a wonderful place to visit. It is so well preserved. It is beautiful. There are great restaurants and little shops and lots of fun ways to tour the site.

You can go to the Visitors Center and tour the museum. You can watch a movie and view a gorgeous 360 degree painting. You will learn a lot and you will have fun.

But you know what?

I wish, so much, that you could see fewer images of the glory of the battle. I wish that you could hear less about the “great deeds of great men” who “alter the course of history.”

I wish that when you go to see Big and Little Roundtop, you would hear less about the courage of the men who ran barefoot and desperate up the slopes, and less about the bravery of those who withstood them.

Here is what I wish you would learn at Gettysburg.

I wish that you, and all of us, would see the faces of the boys who were exhausted, and sick and hungry. I wish that you could hear their thoughts as they huddled in the trees, waiting for death. I wish that you could learn the stories of their wives, grieving and anxious and waiting at home with babies in their arms.

I wish that we could all be encouraged to look at the face of every slaughtered young American, and to think about the mothers and fathers they left behind. To think about the children unborn, and lives never lived, the dreams never known.

I wish that we could all be taught that in the National Cemetery, where a monument to Lincoln and his famous address now stands, there are rows and rows and rows of grave markers. Each of them marked with the tragic word “unknown”.

We should think about how it felt to the wives, the sweethearts, the parents and grandparents, the children of all of those fallen men who were never even identified.

What was the meaning of all of that death? All of that fear and horror and pain and loss?

Couldn’t our national course have been shaped without that violence, without war?

As I watch the news today, in our newly divided and bitter and anger country, I think about Gettysburg.

I wish that the lessons taught there were less about the glory of war and more about the pointless destruction of an entire generation of Americans.

To Honor Those Who Gave All


It’s Memorial Day. Once again, I find myself conflicted as I read the messages and see the tweets and watch the news.

I am an anti-war liberal. A progressive who believes that war is never the answer. I am a bleeding heart liberal.

I came of age during the Viet Nam war, when my brother and my older cousins and dozens of their friends waited every year to find out their number in the annual draft lottery. I came of age during the years when progressives fought against that war by protesting against the soldiers who had to fight it.

Now, from the vantage point of full adulthood, I don’t understand why a stance against an undeclared war turned into anger at the soldiers who were drafted against their will to fight it. Now I am ashamed to have supported that view and that action, even though I was only a young teen.

Since then, I have learned to study our wars. I have read about our oldest wars, going all the way back to King Phillip’s War in the seventeenth century. I have read about the Seven Years War in the mid 1700’s.

I learned a lot about the American Revolution when I was teaching fifth graders. Then there was the Mexican American War, the War of 1812,  and the Spanish American War.

Of course, I have also read about and studied the most deadly, most horrific, most terrible war in our history. The American Civil War was so awful and so damaging that it’s impact is still felt today across the Southern United States.

During my own lifetime, only 6 decades so far, I have lived through the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the first Iraq war, the second Iraq War, the Afghan War.

I have never fought for my country. I have never been a soldier. None of my children have fought.

So I hesitate, I have always hesitated, to speak up about war. But this year feels different for some reason. This year feels more important.

As I watch our impulsive, narcissistic, supremely self-absorbed President posturing about possible nuclear war, I find myself compelled to speak out.

Did you know that more than a million Americans have died in war during our very short lifespan? Did you know that this country has been at war for 93% of our history?

And even though we have been at war almost without a pause, we have an army that is now made up solely of volunteers. We have a military that is at war across the globe, even though no war has been declared by our Congress since 1942.

So here I am. Coming into Memorial Day Weekend.

I choose to honor, respect and value the million Americans who have given their lives for this country. I choose to honor them by demanding that those who are in power step up and do what is right. To Congress I say, either declare war or bring our young soldiers home NOW. To our President I say, either go to war or declare that we are at peace. And bring our soldiers home NOW.

To those who willingly take up arms for our country I say, be fierce. Be demanding. Make those who send you to your possible deaths explain to you WHY you are fighting. And do not accept the tired, worn, useless platitudes about “defending our freedom” or “protecting the homeland.” You are fighting in places that are so far from our homeland that many of us don’t even know what continent you are on. No one is threatening our shores with imminent invasion.

If you are fighting for oil, they should tell you that. If you are fighting for pipeline rights, you should know it. If you are fighting to maintain American control of foreign soil, you should know that too.

I honor your courage. I honor your sacrifice.

I vow to work as hard as I can for as long as I can to keep you safe, to let you stay at home protecting OUR shores.

Memorial Day is a day for all of us to commit to stopping our endless wars. It is a day for us to remember all of those who have died in service to our military. But it’s also a day for us to demand honesty and openness from that military and it’s leaders.

A flag on your grave is not enough.

On this Memorial Day, I vow to honor our million war dead by working to stop those terrible numbers from rising.


We Cannot Remain Immune

As I have done every day for the past two school years, I took care of my granddaughter today.

My beloved, sassy, funny, incredibly beautiful Ellie was here with me on this cold April morning. Her sweet baby brother, Johnny, was here, too.

Just as I do every day, I picked them up and brought them into my house. I settled them down to play in the living room, surrounded by all of their familiar toys. I went into my well stocked kitchen and made them a nice healthy breakfast. I sat with them, laughing and smiling as two year old Ellie chattered on about her imaginary friends and Johnny used both hands to fill his mouth with pancakes and blueberries.

When breakfast was over, I cleaned them both up, popped the dishes into my dishwasher, and got out some clothes for the day. We got dressed, we brushed hair, we made a plan for the day.

Because we live in Massachusetts, we sometimes watch a movie in the morning. It is too cold and snowy to go outside, and our indoor activities are a bit limited. So I settled Ellie in front of the TV to watch “Leap” and I put Johnny on the rug with his favorite cars and balls and drums.

And I opened my laptop to check on the news.

I saw the images from the Syrian gas attack.


I saw a tiny girl, probably two years old. Her hair was dark brown, like my Ellie’s. It curled around her face, just as Ellie’s does. Her eyes were closed, and the lashes that brushed her cheeks were long and dark.  

She looked just like my Ellie, when she sleeps so safely in my bed, her pink cheek resting on my pillow.

But her eyes were closed in death. Her cheeks were ashen.  Her body was still.

And my heart almost stopped.

I looked at her. I couldn’t look away.

I could feel the smooth texture of the skin on her tender chest. I could imagine, so clearly, the smell of her curly dark hair. I swear to you, I could hear her peals of laughter.

She must have had a grandmother who adored her. She must have had a mother who looked at her and asked the universe how it was possible for one human to be so inexpressibly lovely. She must have had a father who swelled with pride at each of her achievements. And a grandpa who turned into a puddle of foolish love whenever she turned that sweet face toward him.

Were they all dead,?I wondered.  Was this little baby alone in her death, or did all of those who loved her so much die with her as the poison filled their home?

And I started to sob. I tried to hold it in, to let my own little ones continue to play in the innocence of an American morning. But I must have made a sound, because Ellie turned to look at me, her dark, dark eyes finding mine. “Nonni, why are you sad?”, she asked.  I had no answer.

So I picked her up in my right arm, and settled her against my chest. I pulled little Johnny into my left arm, and held them both against my body. They squirmed and giggled, as little ones do when they are pinned in the arms of a grownup.

I leaned my face into them. I smelled the soft, clean, tender smell of their hair. I kissed the satin of their necks. I felt them breathing.

And I realized that THIS is why I will never again believe in an omniscient God who rewards us for living well.  I will never ever believe in a deity who chooses who should live or die.

Because that beautiful little girl who died horribly was just as joyful and as lovely and as valuable as my own beloved girl. Her parents were no doubt just as loving and as good as my daughter and her husband. Her grandparents must have felt the same overwhelming love that we feel about our grandchildren.

I have to wonder. How can it be that humanity has lived this long without learning anything? How have we come to a place where we can visit other planets, solve the riddles of DNA, understand the workings of nature, yet we haven’t figured out a way to stop slaughtering our babies?

I refuse to believe that there is nothing we can do to stop this. I refuse to accept that our only recourse would be more death, more war, more killing, more dead beautiful babies lying in the arms of their dead parents.

If we can solve the riddles of genetic mutations, we can solve the riddle of human violence. If we can find a way to split and atom and find a way to destroy our planet, we can find a way to stop these mass murders.

Maybe we all need to see images of dead babies who look just like our own.

I don’t know.

But this can’t be the best that humanity can achieve.


I have met “The Enemy” and he is adorable.

When I was little, I heard about the horrors of Pearl Harbor.  I watched movies about the “bad guys” from World War II.

Of course I did.

My father and some of his brothers fought in that war.  I read “The Diary of Anna Frank”.  I read Elie Weisel. I learned all that I could learn about the Nazi’s.

I grew up thinking of the Germans, and to a lesser extent, the Japanese, as “our enemies.”  They were the “bad guys”.  Pure and simple. We were good, they were bad. I was the biggest supporter of the Jewish homeland that you could imagine. I thought at one point that I’d like to move to Israel, to experience this wonderful righting of such terrible wrong.

Then I graduated from High School, and went on an exchange program to Tunisia, where I learned that Moslems are sweet, gentle, funny, kind, loving and so so much like my Italian family that it was hilarious.  At that time in my life, at the tender age of 17, I began to wonder about my country’s unshakable support for Israel.  I began to wonder about those Palestinians who were unceremoniously booted off of their land so that Europe could make amends for its crimes.  I started to wonder about “good guys and bad guys” at that point.

When I got to college, it was the middle of the Cold War.  The Germans were now our Allies, but we still thought of them with a good deal of caution.  The Soviets were the “real” enemy now.  Israel was our ally, the Palestinians were suspect.  I was confused and frustrated when I recognized that my beloved Tunisian family were seen by my countrymen as “the opposition.”  The bad guys.

This didn’t make a whole lot of sense, knowing what I knew about Tunisia, but I was intrigued by international relations in 1974.

I decided to major in both Political Science and Soviet Studies.  I wanted to become an expert on “the enemy”.  I learned to speak Russian, I read all about the Russian Revolution, I learned a LOT about the workings of the Soviet Union.

It was easy to identify the “Soviets” as the bad guys, but most of my college professors were from the Soviet Union.  They were sweet, gentle, funny, kind, loving and smart. They were Russians and Serbs, and Ukranians and Czechs.  They were my friends.They didn’t really feel like “the enemy”.

And so here I am, in the winter of 2015.  I am watching the news, and seeing that “Muslims” are the new Germans.  They are our new “bad guy”.  I hear my President trying to explain why he needs War Powers to fight this “existential and ideological threat.”

I’ve heard little children in my classroom talking about “Muslim terrorists”, and I remember when we used to play “Nazi’s” in the backyard.

I am sitting in my living room, waiting for my German student, my German “son”, to come home for dinner.  I think about him for a minute. He is sweet, gentle, funny, kind, loving and smart.  He is everything you would want your child to be.

I look up at the German flag that is hanging in my living room.


It was a lovely gift from Lucas’ mother, my new friend from “across the water”.  She is wonderful! She is absolutely everything I’d ever want from a friend.  I am so excited that I’ll get to meet her and her husband next fall, when they come to Boston for a visit. I’m even more excited that they have invited us to visit them in Berlin!  I can’t wait to go!

And this all makes me wonder: why do we feel such a need to identify and label an “enemy”?  Why can’t we just step back and realize that there are wonderful, phenomenal Germans/Russians/Poles/Serbs/Japanese/Chinese/Islamic/Israeli/African humans?

And that there are horrible, despicable, violent, bitter, crazy Germans/Russians/Poles/Serbs/Japanese/Chinese/Islamic/Israeli/African humans?

I am happy to have my German flag, my Russian dolls, my Italian food, and my Islamic jewelry in my home.  I am happy to have my Jewish friends and relatives, my Muslim family and friends, and my wonderful, sweet German “son”, all a big part of what makes my life meaningful.

The enemy keeps changing, the enemy keeps moving, the enemy keeps giving the US Government a reason to spend money on more war.

I have met the enemy.  And he is us.


One of the things I always enjoy on Sunday mornings is sitting back with my coffee to watch the political talk shows.  I’m sort of a news junkie, and I am fascinated by international relations. I’m always intrigued by the reactions of American politicians to events around the world.

I hear a lot of talk about ‘American values’ on these shows.

This morning there was a moment when the placement of an ad brought those values into very sharp focus for me.

I was watching Candy Crowley on CNN, talking to US politicians about the situation in Ukraine.  They were debating how we should respond, and the reactions were pretty typical and not very surprising.  Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Democrat) said that the President has reacted appropriately, and that we need to use diplomatic and economic pressures to try to influence Russia.   Sen. John McCain (Republican) said that the President was being “cowardly” and that he should immediately send weapons and military support to the Ukrainians.

So here we go again.  The battle cry is on.  “The US needs to send military support to Ukraine/Syria/Libya/Iraq/Afghanistan!!!”

Before I had a chance to really react, though, CNN took a break and an ad came on.  It featured the face of a tiny, wizened, beautiful African child, gazing into the camera with enormous eyes.

It was an ad for Unicef.  It showed us image after image of starving, dying children. It told us that for “Fifty cents a day”, we could save a life.

The babies looked like these:

flickr-6049797622-hd images-1

Fifty cents a day to support one of these children? Wow.

It got me thinking.  It got me wondering if John McCain or Dianne Feinstein would like to give more money to UNICEF. It got me wondering how much money the US Government does give to UNICEF.  It got me wondering how much the US government spends in a year on war.

So I did a little research.

My goodness.

The US Government allocated $132 million dollars to UNICEF in FY 2013.                           The US Government spent $92.3 billion dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in FY 2013. Billion.  With a B!

Holy priorities, Batman.

I did a little more research.  Did you know that according to Charity Navigator, 91.1% of all money given to UNICEF goes directly to the needy? That’s a lot of babies who didn’t starve to death or die of water born illness.

Makes me wonder. If we could somehow improve the lives of families around the world, would the need for all this war decrease?

I know that’s a ridiculously simplistic notion.  Still, I wonder.

And as I go to the UNICEF webpage to make my donation, I think I’ll also write a letter to my Congressmen and Senators.  I will politely suggest that we refrain from spending even more money on weapons and war and shift our focus to education, food and healthcare around the world.


Einstein had it right


Albert Einstein was a pretty smart guy, from what I hear.  He understood a lot of things that most people can’t even begin to grasp.

But he also understood some things that seem pretty obvious, even to a simpleton like me.  Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

I’ve been watching the news a lot lately, and I’m wondering if humans are basically insane.

I’ve noticed that throughout history there have been groups of people who feel oppressed by other groups of people.  When that happens, very often group A decides to murder large numbers of innocent civilians in an effort to get themselves more resources/power/freedom/land/oil/gold/trade rights/water rights.   I can’t think of a single time in history when the killing of babies and children and old ladies has resulted in an increase in any of these.

And every time group A decides that it’s a good idea to slaughter the children of group B, the inevitable result is that the people in group B decide to slaughter their innocents to make the point that they won’t stand for such barbarous behavior.

This crap has been going on, as far as I can tell, since the dawn of time.


For example, the Palestinian people desperately want a sovereign homeland where they can live in peace and prosperity.  A whole bunch of them have been blowing up and shooting and killing innocent Israelis in an effort to get that homeland.  Hey, folks! If it hasn’t worked in the past 60 years, why do you think it will suddenly work now?   Insanity.

And the Israelis have been bombing, shooting and blowing up whole villages of Palestinians, including women, children and old men, in order to retaliate for all of the violence.  Why? Because the Israelis desperately want peace, that’s why!

Yo’, dudes! If striking back harder than they hit you hasn’t bought you peace in the past sixty years, why do you think its going to give you peace now?   Insanity, pure and simple.

This lesson was true in Bosnia, in Ireland, in Nicaragua. Its still true in Syria, in Iraq, in Chechnya.

Einstein was a pretty smart guy. I bet he recognized the fact that humans are insane.  I bet that’s why he looks so sad in this photo.

That moral high ground.

603733_10200837417355233_1874374034_nI have changed my thinking since my last post, mostly because I have had many conversations with people who are smarter and more thoughtful than I am.

I’ve been reading, and talking, and watching and listening, and I have come to the conclusion that it simply makes no sense at all to kill as a punishment for killing.  I have come to realize that, once you take away the carefully crafted rhetoric about “moral imperatives” and “red lines” and “humanity”, you simply cannot justify the lobbing of missiles into a sovereign nation.

I was beginning to come to that conclusion after listening to friends who believe in peace.  I was brought even closer when I saw images of protestors marching against the upcoming attack.

But what really brought me to the realization that it would be entirely wrong for the US government to bomb Syria was the talk that I heard on the radio about the “moral high ground.”

The argument in favor of bombing went something like this: “The United States has always held the moral high ground against the slaughter of innocents. If we turn our backs on the use of chemical weapons, we will lose our right to lay claim to that high ground.”

And my reaction was something like this: “Say, WHAT?!”

My government has been using unmanned drones to drop bombs on suspected terrorists all over the Middle East.  Even when those suspects are sitting at local cafes.  Even when they are at home, surrounded by their families.  Even when they haven’t had any kind of a trial or even been arrested.

According to a study by Stanford and NY Universities,

“TBIJ reports that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562 – 3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474 – 881 were civilians, including 176 children. TBIJ reports that these strikes also injured an additional 1,228 – 1,362 individuals,” according to the Stanford/NYU study.

Based on interviews with witnesses, victims and experts, the report accuses the CIA of “double-striking” a target, moments after the initial hit, thereby killing first responders.

My government knows that it has killed nearly as many civilians than the admittedly horrifying chemical weapons attack committed by Bashar Al Assad.  And yet it tries to lay claim to the “moral high ground” in order to justify the use of Tomahawk Missiles in retaliation for the killing of civilians.

An attack in which there is no doubt at all that more civilians will be killed.

So I have come off the fence, and I have landed squarely on the side of peace.

I have written to my state Senators and Representatives as well as the White House.  I have expressed my opinion.

Next I think I need to get myself out onto those streets to protest what I see as an act that can absolutely lay claim to the moral low ground.


No Easy Answers


I am one of those people who almost always have an opinion.   I am a news junky, and a foreign affairs addict.  I listen to political talk radio every day on my 35 mile commute to work.

Its usually easy for me to express my views on any and every political situation.  NSA spying?  Bad.  Edward Snowdon? Good.   ObamaCare? Good.  Sequester? Bad.  Stop and Frisk? Bad, bad, bad!!!!  Occupy Wall Street?  Good, at least for a while.

You get the idea.

My father once told me that I seemed to have opinions even on topics I knew nothing about. He was pretty much right: I could take the smallest fact and turn it into a political position.  I was kind of proud of that, actually.

Now, though, I am truly of two minds.   I find myself profoundly glad that I don’t have to be the one to make a decision about how to react to the situation in Syria.

For the most part, I agree with Rand Paul, who says that the US should use its military might only to protect direct national interests, and only if all other options have been tried.  Like just about every other American I know, I am sick of war. I am tired of checking on those whose children and brothers and husbands have been deployed.  Tired of seeing the names of the dead on the news.  I am tired of knowing that billions of dollars a month (a week? a day?) are going toward those war efforts and that in spite of those dollars, soldiers are still being injured and killed.

Mostly, I am a pacifist.  I believe in diplomacy. I believe that if the US really worked hard in negotiations with Syria’s allies (Russia, China, even Iran), we could peacefully pry Bashar Al Assad out of office and end this terrible civil war.

But how long would that take, and how many more civilians would be gassed in the meantime?

And that is where I run smack into my internal conflict.

I recently visited the National Jewish American History Museum in Philadelphia.  I enjoyed the exhibits about immigration, the industrial revolution, Jewish culture in America.  But I was brought to tears by a film that featured an old man, a former American Soldier who had been one of the men who liberated the camp at Dachau.  He talked about what he saw there; rooms full of human hair, boxes filled with human teeth, mass graves filled with the bones of his fellow humans.  And he talked about the faces of those who were still living when the camp was liberated. The film showed us those faces; hopeless, horrified, their huge eyes staring out at us, asking why it took us so long to get there.

And the old veteran, wiping tears from his own eyes fifty years after he became a witness to the horror, told the filmmaker, “It isn’t enough to remember and to think, ‘Never again.’  It isn’t enough to feel bad.  We have to act. We have to demand that it never happens again.”

And therein lies my sense of conflict.