Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love. --Lao Tzu

The Trouble With The Truth

First Posted: Oct. 19, 2015, 4:07 p.m. CST
Last Updated: Oct. 19, 2015, 4:09 p.m. CST


Here is a real war story. 1987. December. Several Marines are walking a trail in the jungles of the Philippines, near a small ville called Pillar. They come across a local farmer laying in the middle of the trail. The farmer’s arms and legs were broken and twisted as to suggest that he had died from other than natural causes. His skin was grey and his chest was carved up. His tongue was swollen and his left eye socket was kicked in with a heel of a boot. Flies had already laid their eggs in them. Now, comes the sticky part.

Command will tell you that the Marines were there to protect a downed chopper. The politicians will tell you the Marines’ presence in the region is vital to the security of our allies and our national interests. The communists, the National People’s Army, would tell you the Marines are the lackeys and lap dogs of imperialist American capitalists. The Muslim separatists, under the banner of Abu Sayyef, would argue the Marines are infidels and should be driven out by jihad. The Philippine Army rebels under General Honasan would claim the Marines are there to prop up the illegitimate government in Manila. Manila would say the farmer was tortured by the communists to discourage others from cooperating with the Americans. The communists would counter that the farmer was brutalized by the capitalist war dogs because the farmer was a communist sympathizer.

All these can be manipulated as facts, but what is the truth? We, as Americans, often see ourselves as champions of the truth, seekers of justices, and defenders of freedom. The L.A. riots, Ruby Ridge, Waco, and Oklahoma City - Is that what happened in Ferguson: Freedom? We fought for freedom in World War II, and we triumphed over fascist despots and imperial domination. But the European countries we “liberated” were themselves imperial powers. Status quo was returned and Britain and France continued to maintain their hegemonies overseas. After helping American and Allied forces defeat the Japanese Empire, Indochina was returned to France, as were its possessions in North Africa and the Middle East. Britain also retained its possession in Africa, India, Palestine and Jordan. These countries would have to fight their own “wars of liberation” a decade after the victory over fascist Germany and Imperial Japan. Some would be brutal wars like Algeria and Vietnam. Some would be lost to history like the Lebanese war for independence in 1943.

In 1982, the same year US Marines along with British, French and Italian troops landed in the middle of the Lebanese Civil War, Britain fought its last colonial war in the Falkland Islands. It was not that we fought for freedom during World War II, but rather whose freedom were we fighting for. Back home in the States, the country was still racially segregated as was the very army we sent to fight for freedom. Jim Crow was alive and well in the south and gender inequality was the status quo. Despite the gallant service of many Native Americans like Ira Hayes and the Code Talkers, Native Americans would not receive full citizenship until 1964. In fact, officially, the period of termination started under Andrew Jackson would not end until Jack Kennedy’s term. Many of the women, the yes-we-can Rosy the Riverters of the war, who worked hard in factories during the war years, all of sudden found themselves displaced by the returning men with not even a thank you for your service. The US also continued to occupy its own colonies, colloquially called “Protectorates,” after the war: Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico. Ill-gotten spoils of the Spanish American War.

Today. Look around at yourself and at your neighbors? Can you tell me which of us is free? Free from oppression and injustice; from poverty and debt; from terror? Was what happened to Mr. Gardner in New York City - justice? Was what happened to Sandra Bland, justice? Were the people in the theater in Aurora, Colorado or the families in Rosenburg or Littleton free from terror? According to ABC News, in this year alone there have been 47 school shootings. This does not include other mass shooting like the DC Sniper, the theater shooting in Colorado or the shooting in Tennessee. The Oklahoma City bombing killed 168 people and injured more than 680 others. The DC sniper killed 10 people and three other victims were critically injured. There have been more than 20 attempts to kill sitting and former presidents, as well as Presidents-elect. Of that number, four sitting presidents have been killed, all of them by gunshot: Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy. Two presidents were injured in attempted assassinations, also by gunshot: Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. With the exception of Lyndon Johnson, every president's life since John F. Kennedy has been threatened with assassination. That is in a country that has had only 44 sitting presidents.

If we are free from oppression, then what were the protests in Ferguson and across the nation? Or what was the OCCUPY WALLSTREET movement about? Have we forgotten the LA riots over police brutality in 1992? Oh, and there was also the L.A.-Watts riots of 1965. Marquette Frye, a young African American motorist, was pulled over and arrested by Officer Lee Minikus, a white California Highway Patrolman, for suspicion of driving while intoxicated. As a crowd of onlookers gathered at the scene of Frye's arrest, strained tensions between police officers and the crowd erupted in a violent exchange. Sounds familiar? Fast forward to 1992, when Rodney King was beaten mercilessly by not one but a half dozen police officers. And yet once more, to 2015 to Ferguson Missouri, to New York City, to Texas. We say that we have come a long way and that times are better, but these incidents belie a truth that there is still something fundamentally broken. Bill O’Rielly of Fox news announced this year, not without opposition, that racism is dead in America. Has anything changed between 1965 and 1992? Or 1992 and 2014? Any body remember David Duke? The American white nationalist, antisemitic conspiracy theorist, far-right politician, and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He is a former one-term Republican Louisiana State Representative, he was a candidate in the Democratic presidential primaries in 1988 and the Republican presidential primaries in 1992. He has travelled the world to Russia, Czech Republic, and Sweden in the double oughts to promote white supremacy and the Neo NAZI movement, and in 2013 was expelled from Switzerland and Italy. The Ku Klux Klan is alive and well according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, with an estimated 5,000 and 8,000 Klan members, split among dozens of different - and often warring - organizations that use the Klan name. The center, in addition to Duke, lists over 100 extremists on their site, including retired three-star general Jerry Boykin, who was the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (2002-2007) during President George W. Bush’s administration.

If we are free from debt, then what is the growing dialogue over Mega-banks, predatory home loans, the housing bubble and college school loan debt? Colonel Andrew Bacevich wrote in his treatise, “The Limits of Power,” that since Reagan, Americans defined freedom within quantitative terms; freedom to unbounded abundance and conspicuous consumption. As Reagan put it, “We must decide less is not enough.” In 1973, for the first time since the end of World War II, the trade deficit fell into the negative, and has been in an unobstructed free fall ever since. Regardless of what party color decorated the White House or Congress, the fall would continue and to this day has not been reversed. Never again would exports in this country of “plenty” exceed or equal imports. Domestic oil production peaked in 1972, but soon spiraled. In 1950, foreign oil imports were negligible, by Reagan’s term it had grown to 46%. During the Carter years, the federal deficit was $54.5 billion; under Reagan it sky-rocketed to $210.6 billion. Promising to par down big government, Reagan instead grew it by 5% and spending doubled from $590.9 billion in 1980 to $1.14 trillion under Reagan. Despite announcing a “peace dividend” after the fall of the Soviet Union, Reagan spent $1.2 trillion on what was then called a “peacetime army,” and funneled billions of it in arms, munitions and other support to Afghan “freedom fighters.” To put it in context, the US cost of fighting World War II was $288 Billion (1940 dollars). The monetary cost to the collective governments involved in World War II has been estimated at $1,000,000,000,000. Two decades later, George HW Bush will transpose the Reagan template to the Global War on Terror, asking Americans to “do their part” by spending and buying more and not less; of limitless credit and unbridled consumption; promising to reduce “Big Government” and expanding it exponentially. Not to mention, sending American soldiers to fight the very “Freedom Fighters” that Reagan created, funded and trained.

In Ferguson, the US Justice Department found that town’s population was 67% black and policed by an agency that was 99% white. Blacks accounted for 93% of arrests, 85% of vehicle stops, and 90% of citations. Washington Post reported that, "some towns in St. Louis County can derive 40% OR MORE of their annual revenue from petty fines and fees collected by their municipal courts. That is almost half the revenue needed for them to operate. "Petty," of course, means $50 to $300 in fines - just small enough that the poor can pay it. The Post goes on to report that, "A majority of these fines are for traffic offenses, but they can also include fines for fare hopping on the metro, violations for uncut grass or unkempt properties, violations of occupancy permit restrictions, trespassing, wearing saggy pants, business license violations, cell phone use, seatbelt violations and vague offenses like 'Affray' or disturbing the peace that give officers a great deal of discretion to look for other violations."

I am not saying this to be “anti-American” – dissent and opposition is not Anti-American, it is not treason; it is a constitutional right. Nor am I America-bashing; I hold the same dream and longing as in Langton Hughes’ poem, “Let America be America again:”
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.

In the classic tale, Antigone, the heroine says “Transform from some reality.” My interpretation of Antigone’s statement is that how can we as a community transform ourselves if we don’t understand or realize the bad, the past from which we come from. This concept is a pillar in recovery and healing from addictive behaviors and mental illness. Recovery and transformation cannot start until the individual accepts the truth of his or her condition. We, the people of United States, can not transform ourselves if we continue to delude ourselves by denying our history and that there is a very real darkness within. We view ourselves through a distorted Manichean prism that contorts the truth. The truth is that it does not pick sides – it is not democrat or republican; it is not American or Russian; It is not winners or losers; it is not Christian or Muslim; it is not blue or red, black or white - It just is. The truth is most of us can’t handle the truth. What we want is what is convenient - a neat little pill to take at night to ease our restless sleep. Let us not deal the root cause of the nightmare, but just treat the symptom, and don’t stare too deeply into the darkness of our own history. So, I ask again what is the truth? The trouble with the truth is it is not always pretty. It’s not always lily white and covered in lace and silk. It is not always perfumed with lilacs and jasmine. It does not always set you free. Sometimes, the truth is what imprisons you. The truth that has imprisoned me for all these years is a man who died one night in December 1987, he was left on a trail and several Marines came across him. We did not seek him out; he was just there. His arms and legs were broken and twisted. His skin was a fish belly blue and his chest was carved up. His tongue was swollen, his teeth was cracked and broken, and his left eye socket was kicked in. The truth is we all walk that trail and that farmer is in all of us – whether we seek him out or not.



This article was written by Joaquin Rafael Roces. Joaquin is a Marine Corps Veteran, is active in his faith community, and has served as a Eucharistic Minister and Religious Education Instructor for over 15 years. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus, and recently became involved in the parish’s Youth Ministry. He has a dual diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Borderline Personality Disorder and has been in recovery for three years. In 2015 Joaquin was trained by the National Alliance for Mental Illness to be an In Our Own Voice Presenter. Joaquin travels throughout Northern Nevada working with NAMI to change attitudes, assumptions and stereotypes by describing the reality of living with mental illness and sharing his recovery story. Through the In Our Own Voice presentations, people with lived experience with mental illness share their powerful personal stories.

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