Those who know me fairly well, or know me over time, will know that I have strong political beliefs. Those who do not know me but have read recent pieces I have written may be surprised that I would talk politics when my brother is in hospice and his life weighs so heavily on my heart and soul.
My brother, the little brother of my family, is nine years older than me. I was born into a family of four brothers who were at various points between 9 and 18 years of age when I was born.
Most of us do not consciously think about family as a concept much while we are young. Family, like so many essential elements of human life, is so integral to our identities that we do not, cannot, separate the concept from our very selves. As a deviant (yes I am one, and it is okay) a psychological only, an analytical observer from an early age, and an accidental after-thought to a family, I probably think about family in relationship to culture and identity more than most people.
Roger is the only brother I actually remember as a brother, as someone with whom I remember playing. Cops and robbers – I was the robber in jail (my crib,) – Cowboys and Indians, and so on in a litany of 1950s-influenced, early-1960s game variations.
These were profound and defining memories that distinguished him from my older brothers whom I loved, but who seemed more like what was probably more typical of an avuncular relationship.
His actions, viewed from a sisterly perspective, taught me the ways of the real world.
- My first political discussion was with him. I was probably about four or five years old and we were walking together up from the barnyard to chicken coop. The conversation topic was the Cold War and propaganda. I said something about how the Russians would find our farm to be a wonderful place. He laughed and said he didn’t think so.
- My first awareness of global politics rending apart personal lives was with him. In 1968 he walked across a street in Hue and the television screens of a hundred thousand homes, including mine, on the nightly news, helmetless, mustached, with an M14 slung over his shoulder.
- My first awareness of police targeting of individuals was when I was in high school and the local cops began a decades long vendetta to jail him, one of those purportedly whacked out vets, for pot.
- I first kept silent about personal assault when I was sexually assaulted when I was 15. I could not let anyone know because I knew he that if he knew, he would kill the rapist and I did not want my brother to be executed or serve life in prison.
War, a needless war against an ideological boogeyman, communism, half-way around the world from where we lived, sliced and diced his flesh like so much meat. It hurt and hardened his psyche in a way that still breaks my heart. He was the last soldier out of Khe Sanh, horrifically wounded there during the first week of August, in 1968, six weeks after the official end of the battle.
Through him I learned that countries and the economies in which those countries operate use the children of the poor, the underclass (whether through conscription or the economic draft) as cannon fodder and regard us as little more than slaves and sub-humans. I see everything from taxation, in which we are taught to use the phrase “income tax” when we refer to wage taxes (to the exclusion of taxes on making profit from money, which is what income is) to election law and the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (talk about double speak!) that grants corporations, and the families they serve, the rights of individuals with none of the responsibilities, through this lens.
The pain and horror my brother suffered, because of war, impacted my family and all we were and are, and all we did and do, since the the late 1960s.
Women, the mothers-sisters-wives-daughters of the warriors who fight for the ruling classes and corporations, are the ones who must change our culture. The price the workers and soldiers pay to preserve a society that cares nothing for them is a high one. The price is the destruction and permanent underclass status of the families we women build and nurture.
My brother taught me this. It is political. It is personal.