It’s Memorial Day and I think it’s sad that on a day we remember those who died in war (for me, all the unnecessary deaths that have occurred throughout my lifetime), I must write about twelve people in a Boston courtroom deciding to kill Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

One person might not seem like much of a do compared to those who’ve died in all our wars, but for me that decision by those twelve people turned a light on how we as a species operate.

! know the two Tsarnaev brothers murdered three and injured hundreds of others. Some see killing him as more than a fair trade—though a poll shows that 73 percent of Boston’s population was against the death sentence a month before it was handed down by those twelve. In a state that outlaws the death penalty.

I don’t see a fair trade. Just another murder to go along with the others.

The day their verdict was announced I was in New York visiting my infant granddaughters. My first reaction was relief that Mari and Vivian can’t read. How could I explain that my home town decided to murder someone? That those twelve people felt it was “appropriate” to kill another human under the federal government cover of the death penalty. The first execution, by the way, of any “terrorist” since 9/11.

What would I have said to them if they had been able to understand? That a human life is worth next to nothing? Really, all you have to do is open a newspaper to see that it’s cheaper than dirt. Bombs, beheadings, drones, and routine day-to-day murders. We seem willing to kill each other as easily as we step on ants.

I could sit here and detail all the “logical” arguments against the death penalty. How it has proven not to be a deterrent. How we might mistakenly murder an innocent person. How it costs the government more to kill people than have them serve life sentences. How many of the victims of the bombing–people who lost loved ones or had been maimed–spoke out against murdering Tsarnaev.

Not gonna do that. That’s not my point today. For me, the questions are: Do we want to step on ants and murder people? Is it possible to have institutions and governments people might learn from and even respect? Or are we willing to abide starving children, fouling our environment, and sanctioning state murder? Is that the kind of species we really want to be? Or can we be better than that?

What kind of world do you want your grandchildren to grow up in?

But, but, look at the rest of the world. They kill, starve their own, slice off heads, and seem more than willing to fight wars. If the rest of the world is like that, why should we be any different?

I grew up when history books touted our revolution as a beacon of freedom for the rest of the world. Which I believed. And still believe that we can become an example of a kind and loving people. But, honestly? I think I’m going to die believing that we’ve contributed at least as much, if not more, barbarism as any country throughout history. Since 1776 the United States has been at war 93% of the time. Call me crazy but from where I sit right now, the only beacon I see is blood.

I’ve written about my issues with Boston’s response to the Marathon bombings before and have been pretty critical about the way my city’s population was more than willing to ignore their own civil liberties. But there is no doubt that in the bombing’s aftermath the town came together: people treating each other with respect and kindness, often  exhibiting the very best of our species’ behavior. “Boston Strong” was a phrase that meant the unification of my city. That we could stand shoulder to shoulder as brothers and sisters. That we, as a city, could be larger, better than those who maimed and killed. That Boston Strong now seems shattered by those twelve people.

My town has a proud but flawed history. An important station destination for the Underground Railroad coupled with the New England slave trade. The first school desegregation case in American history (1848) and rock-throwing racists in the 1970s when desegregation was finally implemented. A city of neighborhoods where it’s difficult to find one that’s actually integrated. And now we have another ugly stain on our history.

I don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy, Tinkerbell, or even Santa Claus. I don’t believe in Utopia.

But I do believe our species can be a whole lot better than we’ve shown. Don’t you think it’s time to start? Do rivers have to run red before we see the folly of war? Why can’t we try to feed the hungry, house the homeless, care for the ill, and begin to turn our back on the notion that it’s everyone for themselves?

What kind of world do you want your grandchildren to inhabit?

What did the people we are remembering today die for?

I think they died believing in making our world a safer, more humane place to live. Where Boston Strong doesn’t crumple into Boston Shame.

What kind of world do you want your grandchildren to inhabit?

In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute. ~ Thurgood Marshall


I’ve hated that phrase since the 1960s when people who despised our demonstrations for civil rights or against the Vietnam war hurled the words at us if they were bricks.

Not so sure what I think about love it or leave it these days. I’m not even sure I like our country anymore, so maybe it really is time to pack up and get out. The work I do can be done from anywhere there’s an internet connection. And there are Internet connections in countries that more closely resemble my democratic socialist and non-violent beliefs.

Why now? Honestly, I’m finding it harder and harder to breathe when I open a newspaper and read a synopsis of what I’ll call the TORTURE REPORT, a non-partisan summation of five, count ’em, five years of study that concludes we did indeed torture people. And also concluded that little or no useful intelligence was actually gathered. Okay. We tortured. And while the very idea is horribly disgusting, I also understand we’re not the only country to use Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (a very benign and misleading use of language). And we won’t be the last. But to then have government officials who were, at one time, vocal in their opposition to torture (e.g. the present Director of the CIA and the fucking President himself) dance around the report’s conclusion of its usefulness by repeating over and over that “it’s unknowable” appalls me. Hell, my government was more honest in the mid-70s when it disclosed the findings and transcripts of the Pike and Church CIA congressional hearings.

Actually, this blind eye toward torture isn’t new. My government wrote a constitution that spells out the notion that Black men (they didn’t even bother with women of any color) were worth three-fifths of a White. So for generation after generation we encouraged and welcomed slavery. (Just another torture form). And please don’t think this was only a North versus South issue. Vast fortunes were made in New England through the slave trade.

We can go back farther if need be. We blood-let Native Americans for the simple reason we wanted their country. Again, I get it. We weren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last to steal other peoples’ land and homes. But a nation born from blood and continues that tradition through to the present, simply can not pretend that its hands are clean and claim, ”it’s unknowable.”

But the pull toward leaving isn’t solely based on our bloody history. It isn’t even based upon our current belligerent cop of the world posture and actions. It has as much to do with the attitudes and behaviors we’ve been acting on since ketchup became a vegetable.

Without romanticizing the 1960s when I first cut my ethical and political values, there were, at least, politicians who actually attempted to right wrongs. Not many, but many more than now. Even Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren voted to fully fund the Israeli military despite their very clear knowledge the funding was going to an apartheid state. What we got now is nothing and damn near nobody.

I sense a seismic shift of the underpinnings in even the great stuff my country has done. There was a time (though not without its own set of politics) when we had pride about being a country where people, not counting people of color, could actually have a chance to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” We no longer have bootstraps. We have part-time employees without living wages or benefits. Now, we want to pitch kids back to countries where death might be the kindest thing to occur. We once were proud of our roads, bridges and, at the time, perhaps the greatest infrastructure in the world. Now, that great infrastructure is crumbling and rather than address it, we give tax breaks to those who need it the least and carte blanch to corporate theft. Is it a surprise that almost 50% of our people don’t vote? Why bother? Both political parties are about feeding the rich. Thirty-three states have laws against people sleeping outdoors but don’t fund anywhere near enough shelters to house them. This is what we’ve become and I believe that those who don’t bother to vote have a gut level understanding of that. My government isn’t about them—or about me.

The cruel joke of it all is how many things I love about living here. Our arts, our literature, our music all speak to me in ways no other culture’s could. The caring and giving between people who might even be strangers. The often spontaneous celebrations or even protests that bond us, if only temporarily. The ability—if one chooses—to meet with people (whatever their politics) who, while different than me, still infuse my life with learning and growth. And of course there’s sports.

Would it be easier to be a stranger in a strange land than to be an outlier in my own? I guess I’d need to leave to find out. But let’s face it, I’m not going anywhere. Some very obvious reasons: family and friends. Not so obvious or even understandable to myself is the irrational never-ending hope that somehow, in some way, we still have time to change. That it’s potentially possible to become a land of sanity and community rather than warheads, drones, and prisons. That our culture might find its way out of our racist, economic, and military fog and into, at least, some light.

But the way I feel right now, I ain’t betting rent. Although:

It’s amazing how a little tomorrow can make up for a whole lot of yesterday. ~ John Guare


The play OPERATION EPSILON, is about the six months that an elite group of German scientists, including Werner Heisenberg and Otto Hahn, were confined in an English  country house after the German surrender which ended World War Two’s European chapter. These scientists had spent their professional lives in Nazi Germany working on atomic research, each with different takes on the so-called neutrality/purity of their work—though most often we hear them proclaim to simply be scientists and not the politicians who made operational decisions about their findings. Although the play (based upon transcripts taken from the bugged house) presents an extreme set of circumstances, after I saw it, I began thinking about the issues of morality that follow us all in our professional and daily lives.

Two characters who really caught my attention were Werner Heisenberg and Otto Hahn. When Hahn is informed privately by their guard that the United States had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, he burst into heart-wrenching sobs, believing that, as the person who actually discovered the fission of uranium and thorium in medium heavy atomic nuclei, he was responsible for the hundreds of thousands of deaths. Later that night when all the scientists heard the news on the radio, their reaction was stunned disbelief, then an angry debate about how the Americans could have possibly done the science when they, the Germans, were supposedly the top dogs. Those who were overt Nazis quickly turned on Heisenberg since his work had commandeered most available research funding while his calculations suggested the creation of a bomb was impossible. Virtually nothing was said that night about the devastation wreaked by the atomic bomb.

Later in play, when news reached the house that Otto Hahn had won the 1944 Noble Prize for chemistry, a joyous party ensued among the scientists and there Hahn was, proud as a peacock, about the very discovery that had sent him into a paroxysm of tears about all those dead Japanese.

Morally speaking, is science a special category because its findings turned into reality can directly affect people? And, if so, are these ethical issues limited to wartime? Or do pharmaceutical researchers have the same burden when they see their employers short-cut their way to creating products suggested by their work? And what about all the research that might be considered “benign,” like infant studies. Should all scientists feel responsible or be held accountable for the effects of their studies despite not making the decisions about how their research is used?

From where I sit science is not a special category because I believe the same issues of neutrality or responsibility is an everyday question for damn near everyone.

For the most part we don’t ask our foot soldiers to shoulder the moral weight of killing. Further up the military food chain, it certainly comes into play. “Just following orders” didn’t fly at the Nuremburg Trials. Even Errol Morris’s documentary, The Fog Of War, basically a two hour interview with Robert McNamara, raises these concerns. At one point McNamara, who was part of the decision making process that unleashed the firebombing of Tokyo where around 100,000+ of men, women, and children were burned to death in about one day, remarks, {Curtis} LeMay said, ’If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.’ And I think he’s right. He, and I’d say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?

Once you step away from the obvious situations where people and their professions have live or die impact upon others, what happens to the question of our responsibility to identify our own moral imperatives? If the idea that “everything is political” and has humanitarian consequences, is it an artist’s responsibility to manifest his or her political/humanitarian point of view in their work? Certainly Picasso’s Guernica represented his as do many paintings by different artists, books by writers, plays by playwrights, and music by musicians.

But what of the artist who clings to the belief that it’s necessary to stand outside the society, culture, politics to genuinely express his or her vision? Or the journalist who believes it’s unethical as a neutral reporter to pull a child out of a fire? Are they simply refusing to acknowledge that morality is always embodied in their work, whether meant to be or not?

I imagine the issue of personal responsibility has raged throughout history. Certainly during wartimes, but not only. How many people felt an individual responsibility to publically condemn slavery? An individual responsibility to openly reject the oppression of children before child labor laws were passed?

Truth is, the list of issues is endless with no clear cut answers about the integration of morality into one’s daily life. We basically leave it up to the individual to decide their own responsibility to others on the planet. But I wonder if that’s really good enough to create a world without starvation, disease, and brutal wars.

And it cuts closer to home than that—albeit with different consequences. What about buying SodaStream from an Israeli company parked on Palestinian property? Or, the choice to abandon urban public schools by the middle and upper middle class? Or, our willingness to allow decent people to lose their houses because of institutional greed and avarice?

No one told us that being a responsible citizen would be easy. But difficulty can’t be used as an excuse. Had McNamara and his cohorts refused to fry Tokyo’s population, or refused to napalm the North Vietnamese, or if we refuse to allow the notion of amorality, despite morality’s incredible contradictions, might not the world be a better place?