From the Memory Cupboard

The brain is an amazing organ.   It can do so much more than your computer and quicker too.   Just think of all those events big and little that it stores for later recall.  Don’t forget all the items that it decides shouldn’t be stored.  They are important too or else we would be bogged down in a matter of days with so much trivia we couldn’t call up the significant matters and those we use to help us sort out a new course of action based on prior experience.   You don’t need to remember each and every time you have stopped at a red light but you do need to remember that stopping for them is important to your health.   So, from many of those memories I offer some of the following thoughts about our world then and how they might be worth remembering and applying the lessons learned from them to today’s events.

Language matters a great deal.   There is a lot of discussion these days about whether English should be the official language in the US.  That conversation has been going on for at least a generation now.  Some seem to think it arose only in the last few years.  Remember the Senator who was the linguist back in the ’70’s and ’80’s who first proposed that the law should require it to be the official language?   He was not just a senator but an academic.  The proposal didn’t get too far then but it would be headlines today.  Throughtout history some very bitter conflicts have been execerbated by language disputes.  Just a couple that are of more recent vintage will make the point.   In Northern Ireland most folks are really not all that religious and certainly not the IRA.  It was much more about language and accent than religious beliefs.   It was pretty easy to tell an “Irishman” from the English gent just by listening.   That difference reinforced so many of their preconceived notions of each other.   It was only about 30 years ago that there was a serious push for Quebec to have its independence from Canada.   This was right across our border in a modern and civilized country.   There were bombings and other terror activities during this time and the focus of the dispute was language.  It was a violent movement.   The native Quebecois wanted French as their official language and other recognition of the French heirtage; other Canadians thought they were being too provincial and not joining the “melting pot” of modern Canada.   The push for independence did not succeed in spite of referendums on the issue but there were the changes that are so obvious today in Quebec with the double print of both languages in all public places and French is required in many public places and school.   Before it was voluntary.

Today we face the renewed threat of Russian aggression.  Just as they recently invaded Georgia, they are a threat to the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine.   One of the principle flashpoints in the dispute is the Crimean Pennisula and the city of Sevastopol.   The pennisula is part of Ukraine and went with it when it gained its independence after the USSR collapse in ’89.  Sevastopol is the major Russian navy base in the Black Sea.  It was leased to Russian much like Gitmo was leased to the US from Cuba.  Haven’t you ever wondered how we had a base on the east coast of Cuba?   But just like Ossetia in Georgia there is a substantial Russian population there.   Language is one of the major bones of contention.   Only last week there was a report on NPR about the situation and a Russian who is a citizen of Ukraine living there spoke of the revolt that would be set off if Ukraine starts requiring Ukrainian to be taught in the public schools.  Of course it is Ukraine and it shouldn’t be much of a shock that they want their citizens (even if their ancestors came from Russia) to speak the native tongue.   One wonders if Russia one day soon might move into the Crimean to “protect” the Russians there just as they did last month into Georgia.   Read those little paragraphs in the back pages about international news and you can follow the events yourself.   Again language is seen as the flag or insignia of a particular culture.  Indeed language is that and people will fight very hard to protect their culture.   More than they will for money.

You have heard the phrase “tell it to the Marines”.  It is a derogatory passage and implies that the listener is dumb enough to believe almost anything.  It is not however a new one.  Some think it only goes back to WWII but you have to dig much deeper into American history than that.  Go all the way back to the Revolutionary War.  All navies at that time had marines.  They were on every ship and would keep order among the sailors and provide covering fire when ships of the line came into close quarter combat.  They also provided security for forays ashore when necessary.  Sailors were a rough bunch then as they pretty much have been throughout history.  The marines were considered even “slower” than the sailors though and were often recruited right off the streets of a port town and rarely had any education.   They were considered unsophisticated and gullible–thus the phrase.  You could tell them anything.  When you thought someone was blowing smoke your way you would tell them to tell it to the  Marines.   They were also known as leathernecks and still are.  That comes from the earliest uniforms that they wore.  They had a leather collar around the jacket they wore; thus the moniker.

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