Category Archives: War

Above the mist

I have sometimes considered where in New York (or the Northeast) I might like to live if I weren’t living in Syracuse. It might seem crazy, but in addition to the usual factors (jobs, politics, weather etc), I find myself considering the history of a place. To me, it’s like the character of the landscape, or the atmospheric conditions. Just like you probably wouldn’t consider moving somewhere sight unseen, I wouldn’t feel like I’d done my homework if I didn’t have a sense of what was what, then – as well as what is what, now – since it’s all connected. (This is probably why, if you forced me to choose between Rome and Ithaca, it would be quite a dilemma: Rome isn’t the most congenial spot for me in terms of the physical landscape or the political zeitgeist, but I know the historical landscape fairly well. Ithaca’s history, I don’t have a feel for at all, and I would feel somewhat disoriented.)

And then there are the Finger Lakes, which are so very beautiful and appealing. But for me, it is hard not to breathe in the heavy historical smog there. This was, after all, the scene of a massively destructive military campaign. Some today would call it a national security mission, others would call it ethnic cleansing. The atmospheric conditions there today are neither overtly “bad” nor “good” from a moral standpoint, but those clouds of history are still thick. And nowhere do they seem thicker than along the big lakes, Seneca and Cayuga, and particularly between them, in Seneca and Schuyler counties. This is where I was this past week.

One of the curious things about this unnamed land between the lakes is how laden with U.S. government presence it was and still is. Outside of New York City and Fort Drum, this has been the most federalized plot of land in the Empire State. One can’t trace a clear path from the Sullivan-Clinton days to the 20th century in this regard, but it still seems like somewhat more than a coincidence that a Naval base (later an Air Force base), a heavily guarded munitions depot, and (improbably) a National Forest took form here. Indeed, the two long lakes make ideal strategic barriers… but, these being the first lands that the newly minted U.S. government took from the native inhabitants by force, one must wonder if on some deep echoing level, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”

On a human level — today — I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to make that point. Nowhere in New York is organized anti-tribal sentiment more vehement than in Cayuga country. The prospect of the landless Cayugas putting 125 acres into trust has thrown the local chapters of UCE into high alert. “No Reservation, No Sovereign Nation” signs are still up everywhere. It’s a distinctly different vibe than even in the Utica-Rome area. There are any number of socioeconomic factors driving the rancor. Down on the shorelines are the sumptuous wineries with their newly surfaced parking lots, and up in the hills are the prim white farmhouses with their shaggy coats of peeling paint. But I think history’s miasma hangs heavily too. The land is beautiful, but it was acquired expressly by sword and fire. And that stone fact cannot balance lightly on any psychic sense of safety and permanence.

However, up in the hills between the two lakes is a strange, peaceful little oasis called the Finger Lakes National Forest. I went camping and hiking there this past weekend. This is New York’s only national forest, and the second smallest national forest in the country. It’s also probably the only one that has pastures (with cows!), neatly labeled with brown-and-white U.S. Forest Service signs. Originally a land reclamation experiment, it’s a patchwork of forest and farm lands that seems like a depopulated, idealized vision of the New York countryside — what it would look like if the state were a large outdoor museum. Because the land has hardly been touched by development since the 1930s, the plant diversity is pretty amazing. I counted at least 20 different species (not including shrubs and trees) bordering my campsite alone.

Needless to say, the views from the top of the forest are incredible. You can see Seneca Lake, and almost see Cayuga Lake as well… and you can almost feel that you’re above the mists of the past and present, too.

In mourning

On the orders of Gov. Paterson, New York State has a new policy: Any time a soldier from New York, or even serving with a New York-based unit, is killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, flags on state government buildings will be lowered to half-staff. This practice began last week to honor soldiers from Fort Drum who were killed in Iraq on June 4.

I don’t know if other states already have the same policy, or if New York is the first. But I really hope the practice is maintained.

Peter King: Let’s terrorize Upstate New York

U.S. Representative Peter King of Long Island is pushing a new meme: Native Americans in Upstate New York are in cahoots with radical Islamic terrorists and are using untaxed smuggled cigarettes to fund their plots. As reported in the Buffalo News, the evidence for this conclusion from King’s House H#^$&*#land Security Committee “study” is thin. In a slim fifteen pages of innuendo, the report relies on a single incident from five years ago involving two Seneca women. (You can read the report for yourself courtesy of Fox “Fair and Balanced” News.)

First, even if you believe that Indian nations should pay taxes on their cigarette sales and that Albany is too wimpy to send in the state troopers, this report is not good cover for the state to use. Non-Indian New Yorkers from Buffalo to Plattsburgh are already pissed off enough with the way the federal government has been throwing its weight around trying to impose overblown border security measures that stand to seriously impact the Upstate economy — not to mention irritating schemes like proposing to turn Lake Ontario into a free-fire target practice range for the Coast Guard. Meanwhile, things regarding domestic security that really should be examined are ignored — such as security at the ports that load boxcars onto the shoddy CSX tracks that seem to produce a major derailment and/or explosion once or twice a year. (Considering the lousy infrastructure across Upstate, any terrorist devices would probably detonate by accident long before they ever got a chance to obliterate New York City.)

Second — whatever your views on Indian sovereignty, taxation, crime on reservations, or smoking — any Upstater should be suspicious when they and their region are turned into “examples” for political gain in the name of “anti-terrorism.” Being smaller and weaker than other parts of the nation, we’re easier targets for this dangerous kind of sophistry (the very sort that got us into Iraq for no good reason). Let the government paint the Haudenosaunee thus, in the absence of any compelling evidence, and it’s only a matter of time before other disadvantaged and voiceless residents of this region find themselves being smeared in the same way. The color of your skin, in the end, might not protect you. The “terrorization” of any people living in our region should not go unquestioned… particularly not when much more compelling threats are going unaddressed.

A day of peace and friendship

Today is Armistice Day, also known as Veterans’ Day. It’s also Canandaigua Treaty Day, which will be celebrated in Canandaigua with a parade and ceremony of thanksgiving. I don’t know if America will ever fully make the leap from having a day set aside to remember the sacrifices of people fighting in wars, to having that day be a nationally recognized day of commitment to peace as well. I believe that the two commitments are not mutually exclusive.

Brothers, we hope you will make your minds easy. We who are now here are but children; the ancients being deceased. We know that your fathers and ours transacted business together, and that you look up to the Great Spirit for his direction and assistance and take no part in war. We expect you were all born on this island, and consider you as brethren. Your ancestors came over the great water, and ours were born here; this ought to be no impediment to our considering each other as brethren. –Red Jacket, speaking to Quaker treaty observers, Canandaigua, 1794

What they heard

Some years ago, Hart Seely (who writes for the PS) put together a collection of Donald Rumsfeld quotes re-imagined as free verse. Maybe it’s not just for fun that one can do this; maybe one can really get an insight on what so many people found inoffensive, or even attractive about the rhetoric that was endlessly recited by President Bush in the days after 9/11. It obviously had to be attractive to millions of Americans on some level, and for quite some time. Rather than hide behind hindsight, maybe we should just understand that maybe what sounded like bullshit to some of us, sounded like comforting country-rock song lyrics to someone else. Here, with a big tip of the hat to Mr. Seely, are some of Bush’s Greatest Hits…
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