Conversations with My Grandparents

I encourage everyone to talk to the elders in their families as much as possible as I did last night. Not only do such talks give you a greater understanding of who you are as a person and your roots; but they can offer you a glimpse into a history that you may know little about and otherwise would have to rely on history books. Last night we were discussing movies and my grandmother began to complain that Hollywood movies today are all filthy and full of sex. I told her that is true; but that sex is a part of life and sometimes sex plays an important role in films and sometimes it is just cheap. Somehow that got us on the subject of war movies and of World War II.

My grandfather is a veteran of World War II and served in the First Marine Division which saw action in the Pacific theater fighting Japanese troops. I told my grandparents “ look at the WWII movies, they all showed American soldiers who looked like they had just stepped out of The Plaza they were so clean fighting battles against the enemy, always winning, coming home in one piece and getting the pretty girl. But, how many young men came home after the war with no legs, without an arm or blinded? How many didn’t come home to the pretty girl; but came home to mental hospitals or nursing homes where they stayed the rest of their lives?”

This prompted my grandmother to join in and say that a lot of men came back from the war with mental illnesses but back then they just threw people into a home. In Vietnam, where her son and my uncle fought, it was well publicized that a lot of soldiers came back and were shell-shocked; but what Americans do not realize is that many came back from WWII the same way and many are probably coming back from Iraq in the same condition.

In 1945, between April and June, my grandfather was a part of the American invasion of Okinawa, the last major Pacific battle of the war, and this battle proved to be the bloodiest battle of the war for the Americans. In one battle America lost more than 12,000 men, Japan and its Okinawan transcripts lost 107,000 and according to reports there may have been 100,000 civilians perish. The battle utilized all branches of the American armed forces and the Japanese responded by air, land and sea. My grandfather told me as he told me before, of seeing the beaches, for as far as you can see, full of dead young men piling up. He told me of friends of his who left the battle blinded and crippled and then he posed the question “what did they ever do about those dumps?” I didn’t know what he was referring to; but apparently the bodies of American and Japanese soldiers where just bulldozed into holes and left in Okinawa. There were too many dead too quickly to do anything else. From an American perspective let’s look at it like this; in three months four more times the America troops died in Okinawa then have dies in three years in Iraq. In my grandfathers opinion; the generals and the politicians had a disregard for the value of the lives of the enlisted men and often would use them as cannon-fodder and he told me of seeing row after row of young American being gunned down on pointless missions.

The difference today, as he tells it, is that the American public will stand up to the government and expect accountability. If Americans believe that soldiers are dying in the pursuit of an unwise cause or that the welfare of the soldier is not respected then they will stand-up and make their voices heard and in WWII there was no such concept amongst the public at-large. It wasn’t just WWII I might add; for thousands of years kings, sultans, and rulers sent young men to die by the thousands with no regard for the humanity of the soldiers. Why is this? Well, for one it can be attributed to the goals of the ruler and the people, secondly to the inability for current warfare technologies to adequately protect soldiers and thirdly due to the fact that the bulk of the dead would normally come from the ranks of the poor in most societies and the noblemen who did die became legends.

When I asked my grandmother about Hitler she said “we knew he was bad but we didn’t know he was extemiating people; we just thought he was out to take over the world.”

Today Americans look back at WWII with some kind of nostalgia, as if it was a fairy tale and everyone did the right thing, and not the brutal and bloody conflict that it was. Like almost all Americans, I do believe that my grandfather fought in a just and essential war, but that does not mean one cannot analyze the history and learn lessons from it. Any comparison between WWII and Iraq is laughable; the world was at danger then due to imperial powers that had the desires, and the capability, of world domination, and they were the aggressors; no such equivalent exists today. It must also be noted that the homefront was then actively involved in the war with air raids drills, neighborhood and school drills, rations, factory conversions and the like. Today no one is being asked to sacrifice, as a matter of fact taxes are being cut, and the public follows the war like a bad soap opera.

Which brings me the greatest president tin the history of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In my grandparents narrative; they were surrounded by poverty, misery and near starvation in the 1930’s during the devilish presidency of Herbert Hoover (a Republican) and it was FDR and his New Deal that saved the masses of the people from lives of ruin and despair. So, until today, the are FDR populist Democrats, who have supported the Democratic Party because of issues of class (support of unions, raises in the minimum wage, workers rights, health care issues, social security, etc.) and like a lot of FDR Democrats, including myself, they don’t care for the cultural elitist issues the Democratic Party has now chose to make the top priority while shunning labor and the poor.

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10 Responses to Conversations with My Grandparents

  1. Elizabeth says:

    My father’s an FDR Democrat as well (he’s possibly similar in age to your grandparents) only he can’t seem to see how far from its original values the Democratic Party has strayed…when I wrote something critical about the Democratic Party on my blog he emailed me a long defense…

  2. DA says:

    Democrats looooove screwing working people these days. Don’t get me wrong, Bush is worse than Clinton on this score (as with many others), but Clinton is the one who sold out his union base by signing shit like NAFTA into law.

    Then again, working clkass white people, idiots that we are, have a strong tendency to love the people who are gonna fuck us up the most. Seriously, we’re Tina and the GOP is Ike Turner. They smack us around, we get sick of it every now and then, but they say “I’m sorry baby, I love you baby, stay with us and we’ll protect you from those scary Arabs and Mexicans”.

    Every idiot with a “Union Members For Bush” bumper sticker should get laid off and starve.

  3. Anonymous says:

    AsssalamuAlikum Warmatullah Wabrakathu,

    Alhamdollilah I enjoy your blog although I have been wanting to respond to some issues for a while.

    The first one being about “Bobos” and “Rap”. Well one of the most Amazing things you can see in the U.S is commercialization of dissent or “counter culture” For example take the issue of Malcolm X, now you can just wear his T-Shirt and buy a stamp and you are respecting the man, and understand his teachings and what not. The same goes for Rap, initially it was an expression of change, dissent from the “white society”. So people like Gill Scott and other early pioneers fusioned it with blues and produced stuff that was challenging the popular and the counter culture both. Then came people like Chuck D etcc.(who remarked hiphop has lost its soul” and others who tried to keep hiphop about the social things etc… affecting the African American community. So ofcourse any legitimate voice of grievance has to be commercialized and eventually serve the powers in rap. So as Rap started getting commercialized the lowest of the lowest black prostitute was elevated to the highest status. It was all about pimping and drugs. Well as usual the media creates a love and hate relationship towards such genre but at the same time makes it look like the way African Americans live. And as for the white suburban kids, who have never experienced anything in life, and want to feel different they will embrace the “Gangsta Culture” cause it makes them feel like they are socially aware and cool, cause that’s what hiphop becomes. And underground rappers struggle or try to appease the main stream. You can see that with Mos Def( remember Black Star with Talib). Anyway this also applies to movies and stuff where so called minority presence always fits the pattern of what the dominant powers want to see. So the black man has to be loose, funny or a gangsta livin it large, the Indian a grocery store owner or some doctor(who just cares about the money, and is a fool)… Yup commercialization neutralizes dissent, and takes the “other” to make it fit in to the schema of the powers incharge..

    The second issue was about the “Going immigrant of the white cabie”. I know the brother personally and have discussed the article with him numerous times. First of all he was never happy with the article and the journalist before publishing it told him, you might not like the final result. The reason he gave that interview was so he could reach to his parents, as you know, journalism can be a dirty little trade. So of course the dude is going to put his spin on things,( he wants to act fair but at the same time , the position of remarks and wording serves his own agenda). The brother does not drive taxi cause he wants to be Pakistani etc. contrary to that, he just was trying to work, and he goes to school, and he teaches English. So I thought it was an unfair characterization of someone I know and is far from going immigrant.

    And then comes Pakistan, lately in the news for rapes, honor killings. Of course Pakistan like any other society has its fair share of ills, etc.. but what is really bothering is that all these incidents have been so heavily reported in BBC etc.. you wonder why. Take the case of Mukthar Mai, something despicable and the perpetrators should receives the utmost punishment. But don’t you wonder all the attention it got, and then the glamour award. Generally the west sees itself as the beacon of civilization, and brining hope to backward cultures. So all the wonderful things about these countries go unnoticed but these incident which portray the decadence of Pakistan get more news, I feel like mukthars case got as much attention as the earthquake. Basically the white man, once again takes himself as a rescuer and wants to show how the society is backward but sadly forgets to talk about the rapes in his country which occur almost every second/minute. So I mean, why don’t talk about that, or is it that the rapists in the western world are psychos who need help but in Pakistan they are sane men with cultural rules. Just amazes me…

  4. Jordan says:

    As usual, a great post! Even on the points I disagree with, you really have a way with words.

    One question I have been curious about lately, how do you guys feel about war simulation video games… specially ones based on actual history?

    Personally, I feel games based on current wars in progress is in very bad taste. I can go both ways on previous wars.

  5. DA says:

    I actually agree, Jordan. I’m not a big fan of video games in general, just as they’re not my thing, but have pretty libertarian attitude towards them. On the other hand, wars that happened during this lifetime should be left alone….While we have surviving vietnam and WW2 vets, it’s pretty sick to reenact their struggles for entertainment.

  6. Umar Lee says:

    I think there is a legitimacy to what has been said about the commercialization of modern hip-hp and of how the movement has more or less been corporatized; but that is just when you are talking about pop rap that one hears on the radio and television and doesn’t relate to underground hip-hop and even those like Mos Def who have received mainstream recognition but in my opinion haven’t sold out. In America, especially amongst the Bobo set, there is a looking back with pride at broke black artists who provide them with musical joy as they sip their lattes and people like Spike Lee have done a good job in defending the need for black artists to get paid for their work. I think the white hip-hop thing is more complex than you believe; first of all a lot of people just like the sound, then some like the message, some are rebelling and are being silly, and then others are using hip-hop as a form of rejection of the role models that white society has given them, particularly for males, where you have to be a white redneck on one side or being a n effeminate Bobo on the other. How did you address Bobos?

    As far as Pakistan goes, and just for the record I routinely criticize American culture and American norms and am not like the Progressive Muslims who look at the West as if it were Jinnah, but I also reserve the right to air dirty laundry and to talk about things in places such as Pakistan. There are problems there and those problems don’t disappear by saying “well, America has problems too” the two have nothing to do with one another in reality but should both separately be addressed. I have been criticized in the past for always talking bad about America and never addressing problems in the Muslim World and so that is one thing I have tried to consciously address. One more thing, if you live in a city, and you probably do, you will notice that coverage of crime has dropped over the years. The urbanists now say that there is not crime but a “perception of crime” and the newspapers are made to feel if they cover crime too much they will be giving the city a bad rep and of course most of the victims in cities are people of color and Bobos don’t want to read about that. Now let some guy pose as a fireman and rape women in Williamsburg and it is on the news all day everyday.

  7. Jordan says:

    Last night, a gun fight broke out on a major Toronto street during the middle of Boxing Day sales… 6 innocent bystandards were shot, one is dead.

    This is the first year that Toronto is starting to look like LA. We don’t know what to do!

    Canada will probably outlaw ALL handguns this year and start investing in prisons and police… it is amazying how circumstances can alter idiology to the right.

    As for videogames, I am a liberatarion myself, but I think “thug-life” is out of control. Each game is trying to push the limit in “cop killing” and so on.

    I think if music and videogame companies do not start exercising restraint, its time for the feds to come in.

    Seeing 50 cent take off a bullet-proof vest as a stunt at his concerts is not cool… if one more person gets shot at his concerts I say he should not be able to perform.

    Life imitating Art.

  8. Aaminah says:

    Salaams Umar. Thanks for this thoughtful post. I agree that we need to talk with our elders and learn from their life experience, and learn what we can from history.

    Also, since Anonymous brought it up, I’ve been meaning to ask you if you would know of a hip-hop brother (i.e., he’s Muslim) who’s last name is Talib? I was half asleep watching something on PBS about hip-hop a while ago, and then they threw up this brother and I missed his full name, but the song they were playing was cool and mentioned Allah, and they mentioned how more Muslims are getting involved in hip-hop and taking it in a more positive direction…but they never showed his full name again so I don’t know how to find something by him. Not that I’m personally into hip-hop anyway, but I thought it’d be interesting just to check it out, and maybe pick it up for my brother who loves that kind of thing.

  9. Umar Lee says:

    Talib Kweli is a great MC but not a Muslim. There are many Muslim MCs though such as One.be.lo, Jurassic 5, Napoleon, Mos Def, Saja P, Sons of Hagar and others.

    Also, one thing I forgot to say to anonymous; I did not say that brother was trying to go immigrant, I contested that claim, it was the writer in the La Weekly who said that.

  10. Ann says:

    Assalaamu alaikum,

    I keep telling my husband to take our kids and have them talk to his parents (who live downstairs) on cassette or video about their life, especially whe they were young, because things have changed so much since then, and that past is mostly lost…

    Did you ever see the movie The Best Years of Their Lives”? It’s about the problems that many WWII veterans had when they came back from war; I saw it many times because it’s a good movie, masha’allah. (I do disagree with you about explicit scenes in films; I think they can do fine without them.)

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