Michael's Dispatches

Be a Palm Tree: Tobacco, Rebel Flag, 2nd Amendment

13 July 2015

image001A few palm trees remain standing in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), the most powerful storm in history. Tacloban, Philippines. (1)

Michael Yon
Tokyo, Japan

Opinion

Across the globe and many cultures, the humble palm tree has been a symbol of wisdom, resilience, and the successful warrior.

There is a reason why great banana farms are not found in areas prone to frequent typhoon strikes: Banana trees are soft and they bend too much and break and are flattened by a tropical sneeze.

Likewise, harder trees such as pine are flattened by the thousands during storms, while the palm tree, hard, but bending with the winds, remains standing even by the very edge of the sea the morning after a hurricane. 

The trick is not to be too soft, or too unyielding.  Stand strong but sometimes yield.

Yet there is a thinking-weakness in some parts of the world, encapsulated by the idea, “Give them an inch and they will take a mile.” 

There can be truth to this, but there is also truth that sometimes if we do not give an inch, we will lose a mile, or we can even lose it all. 

When I was a child in America, people smoked and chewed tobacco nearly everywhere, even on airplanes and in elevators.

Pipes, cigars, cigarettes, and they chewed and spit their goo on sidewalks and out car windows, sometimes plastering the car behind them.

And if you dare raise a hand in protest – as I often did – larger adults would talk down derisively saying it is their right to light up anywhere and anytime.

Hotel rooms smelled like bars.  Cigarette burns on upholstery and carpets and tables were normal, while cigarette butts were carelessly discarded even in stores, parking lots, and flicked out of car windows, sometimes causing great forest fires.

People regularly died and burned down their homes after falling asleep while smoking.  They set apartment complexes ablaze and left people homeless.

Nasty ashtrays rested on every restaurant table, filled with butts, stained with lipstick, often still smoldering as the white smoke curled and filled the room and embedded in our clothes, hair, and lungs.

But that was their RIGHT!, they demanded.

They had a right to smoke anywhere, anytime, whether at the office or on a public bus or train, in restaurants and in cars filled with children. 

Many people could not eat in restaurants or work in smoky environments because the toxins caused immediate medical problems. 

Smokers called them weak, and said tough luck, proposing that the rights of millions of smokers outweighed the rights of a few weaklings.

And then began the pushback.

Contentious arguments were broached about second-hand smoke, and smokers denied it all, saying their rights were under attack, as they arrogantly blew smoke in our young faces, and created animosity in our hearts and minds, and a taste for revenge. 

And when they mindlessly argued that second hand smoke was not dangerous, and continued to blow smoke in our faces, we learned that they not only were arrogant, but dull. 

They were smug in the land of the free.  Nobody could take rights away to smoke in an elevator.  They thought.

We would have our revenge.  It would take time, but surely there would be a payback.   We began fighting back as much against their arrogance as against their smoke. 

And as we encroached, they became nervous or even angry.  It was their RIGHT!, they demanded, and some veterans would wave the flag and say they had fought for those rights to pollute our air. 

What about veterans who fought and did not smoke, and who wanted clean air? What about their rights? What about rights of children not to be burdened in elevators and stairwells with toxic smoke?

The smoke was bad enough, but the arrogance and sense of entitlement were the coffin nails.  Some smokers said they would ignore the new laws.  We said fine, ignore the laws, and go to jail.  We do not care.

They thought their rights trumped our rights. 

They did not care because they thought they were strong enough to withstand any pressure, and they pretended that non-smokers were weaklings for complaining.  And they were wrong.

They would not yield an inch, so we took a mile, and then another mile.

The more they demanded their ‘rights’ while ignoring our own, and their unwillingness to show consideration for others and even give an inch…well, we grew up, and now they smoke in the cold and pay exorbitant taxes and we do not care.

If the government charges $100 per pack in taxes, we do not care. Because they were arrogant, and they treated us badly, and now this is revenge, and we have better air. 

In some places it is even illegal to smoke outside.  That is taking it a little far, but after the way I was treated by smokers while still a child, this citizen offers no defense for their right to smoke outside.

They used to tell us to go outside to avoid the smoke.  We fought through the huge tobacco firms with their lobbies that supported indoor smoking, and collectively we banished smokers to the same fate they previously cast upon us.  The courts taught big tobacco that even big tobacco was not invincible.

They stood unbending like pine trees and now are shattered matchsticks from the hurricane of public outrage that is now largely forgotten because we won. 

Revenge complete, we moved on.

image003Palm tree on South Carolina flag: Symbol of wisdom, strength and resilience.

Be the Palm Tree.

And now with the ‘rebel flag,’ or whatever one wishes to quibble over calling it -- some of us for years have said that this flag should not fly over government property, even while we strongly defend peoples’ rights to fly it on their hats, cars, or over their homes. 

For many of us, the rebel flag is not a symbol of racism but of pride.

For others it is a symbol of racism and oppression. 

Like it or not, this is reality, and the government should not be used in taking sides on this argument.  Taxpayer resources should not be used to fly the flag other than in museums. 

Sometimes the political and social winds are incredibly powerful, and on sunny calm days, it is easy for an oak to imagine how strong he is, and how many lightning storms he has survived, and to start thinking that he is strong enough never to bend to the winds.

But he never was hit by a proper hurricane, and when it comes, he risks being flattened, chopped up for firewood and eventually his memory flows out the chimney.

Now for the people who arrogantly refused to give an inch in the face of reasonable requests to remove the flag from government property, who thought their rights were immutable or that they were so tough and strong that the winds of public opinion only ruffled their branches – the time has come.

image005Category 5: Hurricane Hugo smashed Charleston.

A category five hurricane of public ill will is upon us.

Had reasonable people given an inch and years ago taken the flags down from government property, we would not today be facing the specter and proposals of digging up bones of Confederates, renaming military bases, taking down statues, and removing toys from Wal-Mart that sport the flag that many people hold dear and without racism in their hearts.

But many people did not possess the wisdom and resilience represented by the palm tree. 

There was a time when many Americans thought they had a God-given right to own slaves, and our magnificent but imperfect Constitution did not prevent this. 

Slave owners refused to give an inch on slavery and other issues and before it was over they lost it all.  They were left with some flags and sad songs as a consolation prize.

Yet no matter how sharp the lessons, these people and their thoughts are reincarnated in different forms generation after generation, always carrying the broken idea that to bend like bamboo or the palm is to lose it all, and that their rights trump the rights of others.

They never learn.  So they get smashed flat, and the next generation gets smashed again.  Unfortunately, the storms they create hurt many innocent bystanders.

During the Iraq war the Coalition ordered under severe penalty that Iraqis stop flying sectarian flags.  If they did not take down the menacing flags, we would do it for them.  If they resisted, we would be satisfied to kill them.  In Iraq, this was common sense.  The flags were used specifically to intimidate people about who was in charge.

Today, since many people rigidly supported flying the rebel flag over government property, reactionary people have finally seized the advantage and are preparing to dig up and desecrate rebel bones and remove statues from the capital. 

This Hurricane Rebel Flag is so severe that it would not be surprising to hear howls to toss out the entire Constitution because it was written under the hand of slave owners.

After all, the reactionaries might argue, why should Americans in 2015 listen to slave owners from more than two centuries ago? 

What do white slave owners know about modern America, and what gives them the authority from the grave to tell us how to live?

Constitution smashers already voice such objections.

image007In Canada with my old .300 Winchester Magnum – it packed a wallop. This was during a time when we could drive straight into Canada with a hunting rifle.

And next comes guns. The 2nd Amendment that many of us hold dear is under perpetual attack.

Yet many 2nd Amendment supporters – having learned nothing from history – are flaunting their ‘rights’ at the expense of other peoples’ rights and sentiments.

Many of the people they are offending are today still children, but soon enough they will be adults, and they will remember the ignorant people who carried shotguns into Wal-Mart and into restaurants and frightened their mothers, during an age when mass shootings were part of the common psyche.

They will remember these taunts just as many of us remember the constant self-importance of so many smokers.  And by the millions the lungs of future generations will fill with the winds of change until another storm unleashes.

Political typhoons do not limit themselves to the original target, be that tobacco or an offensive flag.  Typhoons wreck the whole landscape.

Just as smokers literally blew poison in our faces, and others figuratively rubbed the rebel flag in peoples’ faces, thinking they were so politically strong that rebels were invincible, yet others are abusing our 2nd Amendment, refusing to give an inch.  They risk – nearly assure – that one day a furious storm will barrel down on the 2nd Amendment. 

So far the 2nd Amendment has withstood only thunderstorms, leaving many supporters with a false sense security, and others feeling smug and arrogant, while flaunting their rights and intentionally causing alarm.  These taunts will carry a price.

A disorganized storm has been brewing for many years.  We are never more than a moment away from some event or series of events that so shock the sensibilities that a great gun grab can begin.

Recently a man loaded and racked a shotgun in a department store. Many ignorant, arrogant people said that is their right, and if others are frightened by this, that is their problem.

That unyielding arrogance is our problem. 

Everyday the American demographic changes a little.  Americans born today are increasingly taught that guns are evil, and that only bad people will touch a gun.  Chewing a Pop tart into the shape of a pistol is grounds for suspension from school and even psychological evaluation.  Playing cops and robbers may be grounds for psychological examination.

image009I have not known life without cats, dogs, and guns.

Those of us who responsibly support our 2nd Amendment while respecting our fellow citizens rights and views, will be saddled with the bill. 

As with the smokers who actually did show respect for non-smokers, today the respectful and sensible 2nd Amendment supporters are being roped in with the abusers.

Those of us who support the 2nd Amendment must speak up now – open carry people who intentionally cause alarm should be arrested and we should support their prosecution.  Some open carry advocates do so with no intention to cause alarm.  They are not the problem.

Those of us grew up with guns are not alarmed by firearms.  A rifle in itself is no more alarming than are cars, but some people should not have their hands on either.  This is a reality.

Those of us who have seen people shot both intentionally and negligently – I have seen plenty – do not like to be in the presence of goofballs with guns in their hands.

image011Negligent discharge waiting to happen: Open Carry Texas members, led by the convicted criminal CJ Grisham who engaged in stolen valor and published that he hears voices in his head.

Even trained US combat troops regularly shoot and kill fellow troops through negligence.  British forces also do this. 

I was making a radio interview by satellite phone from Sangin, Afghanistan, when BAM!  A British Soldier negligently shot his buddy, and severely damaged him for life.  This is normal. 

Loaded guns in peoples’ hands lead to negligent shootings.  Bottom line.

Hundreds of troops have been killed and wounded since 2001 by gunshot ‘accidents,’ which the military calls negligent discharges. 

Before the wars, General David Petraeus himself nearly died from a negligent discharge.  A Soldier shot him during training.

US military commanders do not allow most troops to carry loaded weapons on any but the most dangerous bases: we typically take more casualties on bases from negligent discharges than from insider attacks.  And this is from trained troops. 

Are we to trust some random yokel with a shotgun in Wal-Mart?  I do not, and that is based on much experience, not the fear-factor.

Other people are afraid of guns.   And they are afraid of people with guns.  We must understand and respect that they also have rights, and we must not gratuitously demean or offend them for being afraid.  There is basis in fact for their concern, and to try to explain this away makes one sound ignorant, as if launching the 2nd Amendment equivalent of defense of secondhand smoke. 

A ‘secondhand smoke’ of firearms is accidents that involve innocent people.  A mother has a right to take her children shopping without encountering bedraggled knuckle-draggers carrying shotguns down the baby food aisle, and to call her names for showing concern causes 2nd Amendment supporters like me to agree with her that knuckle-draggers are infringing on her rights by overly-asserting their own. 

They accuse her of fear mongering, yet they are so afraid that they carry shotguns into Starbucks.  Typical bully behavior. 

The Open Carry Texas mob planned to march through a black neighborhood on a ‘can drive.’  (Southern slang: Mexi’can’, Puerto Ri’can’, Afri’can’.) 

This was designed to gather attention and intimidate blacks, but when members of the New Black Panthers warned them to stay away, the criminal leader of Open Carry Texas got cold feet and cancelled the march.  They will intimidate unarmed women, but are afraid of armed men.

If we do not behave like the palm tree and distance from lunatics, we risk losing the 2nd Amendment. 

Think this is impossible?  Slave owners held such thoughts.  As did smokers. 

Just a month ago South Carolinians said they would never take down the rebel flag.  The flag was taken down last week, rolled up and retired. 

And today the PC mobs are preparing to dig up rebel bones and topple statues as if they are invading Baghdad.

Even I, a staunch supporter of the 2nd Amendment, who grew up with guns, and who was a Special Forces weapons specialist, who spent years in combat, will be alarmed to see goofballs with shotguns in Starbucks. 

Many people say that 2nd Amendment advocates and open carry advocates are more responsible with weapons.  This is a lie. 

This is also the age of YouTube – a person so inclined can spend weeks watching videos of accidents with firearms.  People shooting themselves and others, blasting holes through cars and ceilings and walls. And yes, these same goofballs carry shotguns around children in McDonald’s. 

Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot his hunting buddy.  The sight of Dick Cheney with a shotgun would cause me to take cover. 

In Afghanistan, Canadian Army Brigadier General Daniel Menard negligently fired two bullets from his rifle and nearly hit one of our Blackhawk helicopters. 

Menard was commanding Canadian, US, and British troops in part of Afghanistan, yet even he did not control his rifle.

One day I was talking with Lithuanian Soldiers in a trailer in Afghanistan when BAM!  A Soldier shot a hole through a wall.

It never ends.

When even a US Vice President and a highly trained Canadian Army infantry General are subject to randomly launching bullets, and knowing that hundreds of service members have been killed or wounded by negligent gunshots since 2001, nobody should be expected to trust random sofa-warriors in the ice cream store who invariably appear to be less than saturated with social responsibility or wide-angle thinking.

image013

Some open carry groups appear to be honestly trying to assert their rights but are avoiding causing undo alarm.  Others provoke citizens and police and engage in heated belligerence.  The more belligerent groups truly scrape the bottom of the social barrel.

image015

image017

Just months ago, an open carry fanatic in Texas committed a double homicide.  The open carry group then lied and said that Veronica Dunnachie was not a member.  Dunnachie was a member and the evidence is a mile wide and a mile deep.

Not only did the open carry group harbor a murderer, the Tarrant County group then lied about it.  The lie was constructed with all the skill of a third-grader:

image019Veronica Dunnachie (left) – open carry fanatic and double-murderer. Open Carry Tarrant County denied she was a member despite abundant evidence on social media.

Fanatics are being allowed to hijack 2nd Amendment issues.

The leader of Open Carry Texas is a convicted criminal who engaged in stolen valor in Iraq, and was sent home from Afghanistan after seeing no combat.  The criminal has published numerous times about his mental illness, including hearing voices in his head.  What are those voices saying?

Open Carry Texas and other groups have used economic coercion to pull or force large businesses to take a stand on open carry, threatening economic backlash if their members are not allowed to open carry shotguns and AR-15s into McDonald’s, Starbucks, and more. 

No doubt this coercion will ultimately backfire as one chain after another forbids open carry.  Property rights trump 2nd Amendment rights.  No doubt that the companies will remember the intimidation.

Just in the past few days, the Whataburger restaurant chain with 780 stores in 10 states broke the ice and banned open carry in its stores.

The convicted criminal who runs Open Carry Texas responded with threats of economic repercussions.   The reality is that Open Carry Texas cannot rally more than a small number of people who would be better off staying home playing video games.

None of the open carry leaders who cause trouble seem particularly successful at anything other than causing trouble.  Their education and income levels appear to generally be low.  They possess few organizational skills beyond small local groups.

Again, there are more responsible groups, but the groups causing trouble are not in any position to cause economic pain for any of the store chains.  (Unless they shoot up a store.)

Unfortunately it is the irresponsible trouble-makers who get the press, which is perfect for people who wish to revoke the 2nd Amendment.

It is doubtful that banning open carry in Whataburger will carry any significant economic impact.

If Whataburger loses every open carry fanatic, the accountants likely will not notice, and 2nd Amendment supporters like me will applaud Whataburder for keeping the stores safer from these sorts.

image021Last month, open carry fanatic Alex Kozak shot and killed a young women he allegedly was stalking.

Too many 2nd Amendment supporters are arrogant, taunting millions of other Americans with their ‘rights,’ which happen to be our rights. And they think, like many people before, that they can withstand any storm. And they are wrong.

image023Special Forces Weapons training, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. M-60 machineguns. Even special operations people like Delta Force and SEALs sometimes negligently pop off rounds.

Many of us want to keep the 2nd Amendment strong.

We must pay attention to our political environment, and to history.  We must be the Palm Tree, and understand that no right is absolute, and that our rights never trump the rights of others.

 

 


 

(1) by DFID - UK Department for International Development - Uploaded by russavia. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_few_palm_trees_remain_standing_amid_the_destruction_caused_by_Typhoon_Haiyan_in_the_city_of_Tacloban,_Philippines_11290331484).jpg#/media/File:A_few_palm_trees_remain_standing_amid_the_destruction_caused_by_Typhoon_Haiyan_in_the_city_of_Tacloban,_Philippines_(11290331484).jpg:A_few_palm_
trees_remain_standing_amid_the_destruction_caused_by_Typhoon_Haiyan_in_the_city_of_Tacloban,_Philippines_11290331484).jpg#/media/File:A_few_palm_trees_remain_standing_amid_the_destruction_caused_by_Typhoon_Haiyan_in_the_city_of_Tacloban,_Philippines_(11290331484).jpg

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