T for Tom

One Minute for a Million Opportunities

Posted in america, poem, Remember to Remember by johnsontoms on August 24, 2017

Staring out the window of our second-floor barracks room, facing southeast outward to the parking lot in front of our Alpha Company building, there were a few tall, green oaks that stood in the hundred-foot space that separated our building from Bravo Company barracks next to ours. Our room was near the corner, and the two windows that on either side of my locker were always open because the air conditioner was in disrepair at all times. First thing in the morning and last thing at night, the scene out the window would be dark except for the orange glowing halogen in the street lamp between buildings. But every morning just after physical training and each afternoon at the end of class, the few minutes when I could slow down to think for myself for just one minute, I’d approach my locker and then swiftly move aside for the other five soldiers I shared the room with who were eager to shower or eat or busy themselves in some or other. Early on during that training phase in Virginia, the second and longest I’d endure after entering the Army, we had limited personal time and were under constant supervision. When other soldiers across the Army were training to be infantrymen and supply men and gunners and were scrutinized during a short, two-month period that saw constant activity and rare personal time, my classmates and I were the fortunate ones. As aircraft repairmen, we set about a long, six-month, class-based training phase that freed us up for almost every afternoon.

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The hangar.

And every day that I’d get off that converted school bus that carted us from the hangar back to the barracks, after standing in formation to hear our orders, if we weren’t scheduled to conduct barracks maintenance or trash pickup or supply loading or weapons maintenance or general training, and if we weren’t forced to get in the chow formation and march to the dining facility, if all those things lined up, we could have the evening to ourselves, only so long as we didn’t leave the barracks footprint. It was limited to the basketball court and bleachers immediately in the front or the PT field adjacent, but we could go there. If we wanted. And during those days, when I had the freedom to make a personal decision, I’d stand at that window and look out at the green, take in the sun through the window, and ask myself what I wanted to do that evening.

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The locker, the windows on both sides.

I’d listen for the clang of a chain net that meant some were playing basketball, or I’d see Ryan and Jason taking off to the smoke shack for cigarettes. Later on in training, as we were given more privileges, we would walk to the library a half-mile away and sit in the smoke shack there alone, away from the hundred other soldiers that were constantly around. During the first early weeks when we’d walk to the library or the post exchange, I’d picked up a couple CDs. It was the only way I had to get music, culture of any kind, and was the first time I’d been able to do either in six months time. One of them was the latest Fleet Foxes album, Helplessness Blues. A while later in the summer, it was Bon Iver’s Bon Iver, Bon Iver, but in the early weeks and with no other way to get new music, Fleet Foxes was played over and over and over. I put the album on my computer and on my phone which I had access to only in the evenings. The sergeants would occasionally do uniform checks in formation to see if any soldier had snuck their phone to class, and so going without, I made the habit of throwing that locker open when I came back from class, turning on a song and staring out the window. It was only 5pm, but after 12 hours of commands, that peaceful, gentle minute to myself, to make any damn decision, was the minute I lived for. What would I do today? really can be the truth of freedom.

We had a day once, just a couple hours. John and I set out to find the body of water on post, because godammit there was a body of water. If you’re not familiar with how wonderful the sight of a lake can be after six months of walls and trees, then you won’t understand why I nearly broke down crying just listening to the soft wave from a fresh lake lap up on the hard dirt beach. I mean, we just took a walk to the water, and it was magnificent.

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The lake on that day.

“After all is said and after all is done I feel the same / All that I hoped would change within me stayed.”

Through these little moments of repurposing our perspectives on freedom, the spirit was rich and growing, but I was still that lost, confused young man looking for answers, questions that led me to the Army. I guess I remember this song most during those early afternoons because I’ve always been afraid that I wouldn’t become something, even in the abstract. Because it was enough then just to have a cigarette after class, and it was enough then just to order a pizza a couple times a week if only to eat outside the DFAC, and it was enough then just to be with the friends I’d made in a forced environment. Inside me, some things stayed: the desire to be great, the unending feelings of failure and loss and hopelessness, that my dreams were always tethered to the fortunes of circumstance, circumstances that led me to the army. And I knew it would take much more time to get anywhere nearer I wanted to be, because in those times, in those vacuum environments, it was enough to just be with people who understood.

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That’s Ryan Landes in the smoke shack where we hid.

“After all is said and all is done / God only knows which one of them I’ll become.”

More days than not I chose to live. Thankfully. I could’ve never seen the rest coming.

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John, Jason, Ryan, myself; Hampton, VA, 2011

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We Have Never Defeated Nazism

Posted in america, Prose by johnsontoms on August 14, 2017

Fewer and fewer times do I have things to say. The myriad issues that plague us, approachingly, personally, more and more each day, the more I am becoming numb. The struggle for positivity is at large among the world favoring those on the wrong side, and each event is merely evidence in loss. Charlottesville is no different. I am not surprised that such an event even had ideation and was organized in principle; I am not surprised that many like-minded individuals attended in support, among which many wore and flew Nazi flags, symbols, regalia, and dress; I am not surprised that those who hold (rightfully) values in opposition chose to counter-protest; I am not surprised that these clashes ended in death; I am not surprised that the President is unmoved. What I am surprised about, by many on both sides (to use a phrase), is the end-gaming that Nazism, as an idea and object, is both at once to blame for the outcome and at the same time defeatable. It’s presence at the event and in the year 2017 (the year two thousand and fucking seventeen) should make obvious that Nazism, as an avatar of hate, simple hate, is both indefatigable and undefeated. We did not defeat Nazism. We did not defeat Nazism because it is just one face of fear, hate, and oppression. But fear, hate, and oppression come in many forms, and like Nazism, they persist. We may have defeated an evil in 1945, but we did not defeat evil incarnate. Nazism as a form of government then was defeated, but Nazism as an ideology for hate was not defeated. Do not think that defeating it now will solve the crisis at hand.

These conclusions are simple enough:

If it is that Nazism is here again, it must be, then, that it never went away.

If it is that Nazism never away, it must be, then, that we never defeated it.

If it is that Nazism was never defeated, it must be, then, that it is spreading.

If it is that Nazism is spreading, it must be, then, that is being bred.

If it is that Nazism is being bred, it must be, then, that the system allows it.

If it is that the system allows Nazism, it must be, then, that the system must be changed.

This is the conclusion that will propel us in the right steps forward. This is logic, by definition. Logic determines that if we cannot suffer more tragedy, we must trace the events of causality to their root. Heather Heyer did not die because she was hit by a car (figuratively, at least), nor did she die because of the Nazis in the crowd. She did not die because the President of the United States encourages and endorses white supremacy, and she did not die because police did not intervene soon enough. The police did not intervene because of the never-imperiled distinctions of free speech that so protect our civilization that we forego simple enforcements that deny hate speech; the event occurred because declaring it an obvious intrusion on minority rights would be to declare it an intrusion on free speech; that do declare these protests an act of free speech must then equally protect those who choose to speak in opposition; that to protect both groups means to allow them, if not rightly encourage them, to appear face to face in physical antagonism without a determinant end.

Rather than step in and declare the obvious facts that this event would lead to death, the system must masquerade in protection of our constitutional rights until someone loses theirs.

This same masquerade is responsible for allowing Nazi flags in the march. This same system is responsible for allowing Nazi symbols online and in books and on clothing and in the streets and in the homes. This same system that will not impugn a person’s defined right to free speech is responsible for letting any person freely speak hate. This same system, the one that lets people freely march in Nazism in 2017, is the same system that declared victory over Nazism in 1945.

You’ve seen the pictures by now: improvised war slogans and updated propaganda to show Uncle Sam towering over the Nazi flag, ready to fight again. Do not be fooled that such a limited grasp of the issue will solve the problems. These are a few of the problems:

Black people cannot go safely in public.

Millions of Americans go bankrupt each year due to medical expenses.

Non-cisgender persons are shamed, murdered, and denied medical treatment.

Government officials are systematically redacting environmental protections.

The world’s wealth continues to accumulate at the top.

Aid is not distributed evenly around the world to states in need.

The education system is being dismantled to encourage creationism and science denial.

These problems are not the direct result of nor the cause of Nazism. They are one and the same in effect a result of hate, in its many forms. Distracting us to think that Nazism can now be the enemy again is to look away from the many problems that defeating Nazism will not solve. Distracting us to think that we can “defeat Nazism again” is to endorse the same government that “defeated” it before. Should you then endorse that system of government if it never defeated Nazism? Should you then endorse that system of government if it breeds Nazism?

Do not join in the chorus: Nazism is not your only enemy. Hate is the enemy. Government officials who prescribe hate are the enemy. The voters who empower those officials are the enemy. Be they Nazis, whites, klansmen, or your grandfather who’s just a believer in small government and fiscal responsibility. If it was your own father who prioritized lowering taxes over social equality, he is the enemy. He is also a fool. Do not be a fool also.

If you want to change these things, you must change the system that allowed them to exist. If you want to rid the world of these crimes, you must snuff out the protections that empowered them. If you want the voice of love and equality to be stronger than the voices of hate and persecution, you must form a system that educates, encourages, and promotes a tolerance for love alone with a violent intolerance for its opposite.

If you want a system that can defeat Nazism, the American system isn’t for you.