A Poem for Memorial Day

Game Over 
by Eli Wright

Maybe it was our aimless idealism,
or misguided patriotism.
Maybe we just didn’t understand what we were
getting ourselves into.
Driven by the desire to serve some greater good,
or follow in the footsteps of our fathers.
Some of us needed money for college,
or wanted to see the world in a new way.
But we couldn’t find any other way to pay for it.
We wanted to prove that we were men,
So we took the oath,
then traded our Nintendo’s for M-16’s.
We started out pushing buttons,
ended up pulling triggers,
and it was like no game we had ever played before.
When we first tasted war, we became addicts.
Got hooked on bullet crack and artillery blast.
Every day one of us would overdose on sniper shot or IED.
Some of us never got sober, relapsed on 3 or 4 tours.
Wishing we could just go back
to playing video games or Cops & Robbers again.
But there was no reset button this time.
No getting back up after counting to ten.
Our eyes were sewn open,
unable to look away from horror stories
unfolding in front of us.
We came home incomplete,
with no words to describe
how our hearts are now beating us black and blue
for some of the things we had to see and do.
We all got what we asked for, in one way or another.
But maybe we bit off more than we could chew
and we’re still struggling to swallow it all.
We’re still choking on the truth that we were lied to.
And even though they said our war was over,
it sure doesn’t seem that way.
But hopefully,
one of these days,
we’ll finally make it back home.

(This poem comes from Warrior Writers, a non-profit organization that teaches and gives space for veterans to write and create art about their experiences. You can donate here.)


In the UK, They Banned Knives When Knife Crime Rose

As an American, it's easy to be cynical about knife crime in the United Kingdom. I'm here right now, and already I've seen multiple TV news segments about all the stabbings and threats of stabbings with knives and machetes. When I saw a BBC report with the chyron "Knives: can we end the violence?" my gut Yank instinct was to think, "Oh, England. You're adorable that you're only worried about one-on-one knife attacks. Try living every fucking day of your life damned to be in a country where mass shootings happen with a frequency approaching hourly." 

Last night, I saw the play Dismissed at the Soho Theatre, which I disliked a great deal for being didactic and over-directed and more. But it sure seemed to be relevant to the nodding audience. It's about a teacher reporting a student who brought a knife to school, and her agony and guilt over the boy's coming expulsion. Now, in the US, schools do freak out over any weapon brought to school property, even in a student's car. Hell, they freak out over Advil. But, again, I thought, "Damn, must be nice to live in a place where that knife is the worst of your worries on school grounds." 

I mean, the idea of getting knifed is fucking frightening, so I'm not trying to diminish or infantilize the amount of knife crime in the UK, which has risen since the fucking Tories have gone full austerity on things like government services, including the NHS. This is mostly a result of the utterly disastrous, laughably and obviously dumb self-inflicted wound of Brexit, which was supposed to bring a bounty of funding to the UK, especially the National Health Service. But it's a fucking failure, a pile of lies, and no one with any real power is suggesting that the nation unfuck itself, including the feckless Labour Party.

But, yes, it's true that violence with crime has risen under Conservative leadership, and, yes, the right-wingers are using it as an excuse to push for harsher punishment for knife crimes perpetrated by anyone over 16 and tactics like "Stop and Search," which is essentially "Stop and Frisk," except with a more polite British-sounding name. And, yes, that shit hasn't really done anything because the problem won't be solved until Brexit-driven inflation and Tory-driven austerity is brought under control. 

So far, pretty much like the United States except with far, far less murder (262 "sharp object" killings last year). However, one thing is very different.

See, in 2019, as a result of the rise in knife crime, the UK government, which, again, is led by the Conservative Party as it has been since 2015 (or 2010, depending on how you count a coalition), tightened a ban on "offensive weapons," as in "can be used in a criminal offense," not "they stink." Prior to the new law, you couldn't carry the banned knives in public. Now, you can't even own them. If you do, you can face up to six months in jail. The laws fully went into effect in 2021. And you know what? The level of knife crime declined. It's still higher than it was, but it's lower than it became.

Think about that. There was a rise in violent crime and they banned the weapons being used in the crime. No movement to halt the ban gained any traction because while, sure, a person with a knife is responsible for the crime, it sure is harder to hurt someone if the knife isn't available. 

One type of knife that has gotten really popular, especially with young people, is the "zombie knife," which is a supposedly cool-looking blade that resembles hunting knives in zombie movies and TV shows. And there was a loophole in the law that allowed for certain kinds of those knives to be sold online, along with machetes that aren't used for gardening. Right now, the UK Home Office is looking into closing that loophole because that's what the fuck you do. 

This shit isn't hard. In the United States, we make it hard because we pretend that the Constitution gives us the right to individually own the means to destroy ourselves. Here, that kind of thinking is seen as madness and completely antithetical to the safety of the public. Or, you know, common fucking sense.


A Brief Observation on the Verdict Declaring Donald Trump Sexually Assaulted E. Jean Carroll

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when it was just fine to sexually harass and assault women. Slapping a woman on the ass was supposed to be taken as a compliment. Discussion about women's looks and their fuckability was a constant in workplaces. And by "fuckability," I mean "rapeability" because it didn't matter if the woman wanted to be judged that way. Consent was something that was given the moment a woman agreed to be alone with a man. It was a bullshit, stupid time, and a good many men didn't buy into it. But a whole fuckin' lot of them did and not enough of those good men did enough to stop it. So there was a kind of impunity, especially since a woman who didn't "happily" accept the ass slaps and tit comments and sex propositions was seen as uptight and man-hating while a woman who didn't give in to fucking when alone with a man who wanted to fuck was seen as a cocktease and prude. And if you were a woman who was raped by a man, your entire sexual history would be questioned, as well as what you wore and what you did to make that man rape you.

This is the gendered world that both E. Jean Carroll and Donald Trump came of age in. And when Carroll was alone with Trump in that dressing room at Bergdorf-Goodman, this fucked up sense of male desire being more important than female agency was overtly present. Trump (and, sorry, I'm not going to mince words because I'm not on a jury and I don't have to follow legal definitions) raped Carroll because, in his own words, he felt he could. Because not only did the unwritten rules of celebrity demand he be allowed to, but everything that Trump believed about masculinity said it was his right. And those same fucking terrible ideas about female sexuality and the treatment of rape victims affected E. Jean Carroll, which is why, despite being the wise, witty feminist that she was, she mostly stayed silent. Hell, one of her friends who she told about the incident even advised her to shut up about it because "He's got 200 lawyers. He'll bury you." It wasn't just the lawyers. It was the toxicity of Trump's ideas of masculinity and his proprietary belief about women's bodies. And that was the 1990s, for fuck's sake.

The difference, as revealed at the trial, is that Carroll evolved and Trump did not. Carroll was emboldened by the MeToo movement and contemporary ideologies of bodily autonomy. That propelled her to an act of exceeding bravery in suing Trump for her rape and for his defamation of her. Knowing the onslaught of threats and insults, of barbaric attacks on her credibility, her looks, her career, her motives, everything, she still took him on, even as it meant the end of her long career at Elle magazine, even as it placed her in a limelight she never asked for. Most of us would never be that courageous.

Meanwhile, Trump insisted that Carroll was a crazed liar. He said that she wasn't his type, implying, quite plainly, that there was a type that he would deem rape worthy. He insisted that every famous man could do what he said on the Access Hollywood tape and could get away with it, that it wasn't anything different than what's been done for "the last million years...unfortunately or fortunately." And that last word, "fortunately," is just fucking galling. Women are supposed to be grateful that a star sexually abuses them? Fuck him. Fuck him utterly and completely.

At the end of the day, it took only a couple of hours for the jury to decide that Carroll was telling the truth and that sometimes even Donald Trump has to be told, officially, that he's a fucking liar. No, they couldn't call him a "rapist" (but, again, I can and I will), but they could say he was a fucking monster. They could say that the past is fucking dead. Everything Donald Trump believes is dead. Let it fucking rot. And let's move into a future where women can name their rapists and be heard. 

No, everything is not going to change overnight. It's only changed disappointingly little since that older time. But Carroll has created a path to some kind of reckoning where evil men pay a price. We can cynically say that Trump won't change, that his voters won't give a shit, but sometimes things move forward quickly and sometimes slowly. And no matter how many troglodytes try to drag us backwards, no matter how many assholes on TikTok or Twitter try to say the old ways need to stay, they can go to hell. The movement is always forward. 


Human Life Is Cheap in the USA

I've been thinking about all the times that an obviously mentally-disturbed homeless man directly threatened me. There was the Black guy in Chicago who told me that he was tired, just out of prison, and ready to kill any white people who didn't listen to him. There was the tall white guy in Hoboken who yelled in my face that he was going to rape me and followed me along a crowded street for a while repeating the rape threat. I've also been thinking about all the generally upset mentally-disturbed homeless men I've been around. There was the man in an emergency room waiting room who starting yelling that he had mob friends, threw his coat on the ground, and shoved and broke the plastic partition that had been put up in front of the receptionist (this was in deepest Covid times), breaking it. The guard walked up to him and told him to calm down, asking him if he wanted something to eat. He seemed to relax and walked away with the guard. And on the subway in New York City? Man, I've lost count of the freaked out, freaking out, and desperate people who have screamed at, near, or just down from me on a train or on a platform. It never once even occurred to me to get violent with any of them. I don't think I even felt vaguely threatened, even when the dude was following me, although that one was a little weird. Mostly, I just hoped they got the help they needed.

Just a day or two ago, someone rang my doorbell. I opened the door, and it was a man looking for someone at my address who I had never heard of. The man said he had an appointment to discuss some woodwork or something. I told him he had the wrong place. He apologized and left. Twice I have had people get in my car and realize they were completely wrong, including someone who thought I was their Uber ("Not an Uber, man" was my response and we laughed before he got out). I don't know how many cars have pulled into my driveway and turned around. It never occurred to me that any of those people might be threats. You can argue that my guard was down and that's how bad shit happens. But maybe because I don't own a gun, my response isn't to think about using it. Maybe I'm just not a goddamn coward.

As we get the news of the latest horrific gun massacre in this country, as we fail to understand how anyone can think the murder of Jordan Neely on the subway was anything but a murder, as we pathetically move on from the murders of Ralph Yarl and Kaylin Gillis, one thing has become perfectly clear in this idiot country during this sad, stupid age we're damned to live through is that human life has become cheap here. It has lost its value to too many of us. Sure, something like the strangling to death of Neely for daring to have a meltdown in public, as that's the only place an unhoused person can meltdown, that can inspire protests. But the numbers of people who truly believe that Neely's murderer, Daniel Penny, had a legitimate reason to murder him is depressing as hell. That comes form a longstanding hatred of the unhoused, with more than a little racism involved. Neely, who I'd seen dance in Washington Square Park, attracting a crowd with his Michael Jackson imitation, was dehumanized by our reaction to his circumstance, to his very existence, and once that happens, it's easier to allow for his murder to appear justified. 

We absorb horror after horror. I saw a photo from the Allen, Texas, massacre of victims of the shooter's AR-15, including a little girl with her brain splattered out. I cannot begin to fathom the depth of sociopathic depravity you have to possess in order to look at a picture like that and think, "Yeah, everything's fine with how things are going. More guns, please." I mean, if one particular gun is responsible for massacre after massacre, it's pretty clear that you need to get rid of that gun, at the very least. I mean, isn't that the most obvious, logical extension of any discussion of "what can we do"? 

But we see all around us the devaluing of human life, of any sense that we should give a damn about anyone other than ourselves and those closest to us. This is what it means to live in a nation where one in three people owns a gun, where at least 20 million of those guns are the same kind that is used in massacre after massacre. This is what it means to live in that armed country where a large percentage of us believe that we are under constant assault from people known and unknown, from migrant gangs, from marauding non-whites, from woke teenagers, from the very elected government, from forces and conspiracies that only exist in the fevered minds of those who want to believe them. And then you think a good many of those threats are armed, so you have to kill them before they kill you. Human life in general doesn't matter to you anymore. Humanity doesn't matter. You and yours, that's all that does. And your guns. 

When other countries look at the United States, they see this as madness. And it is. We have been driven mad by right-wing media and politicians who make coin and careers on exploiting the fears that right-wing media presents. I have friends in New Jersey who refuse to go into New York City because they fully believe that one of the safest places in the country is a deadly hellhole of murder. When I convince them to hang out, they are hyperalert, not thinking that everyone around them is just living their lives. No, they believe that one of them is going to rob them or take them out. And anything out of the ordinary, say, a homeless man ranting about needing food, confirms their belief that we're in a cesspool of people they should hate for existing. And then you don't have to care and think they deserve it when someone, say, chokes them to death because they think they might have a gun or might be a threat. 

If you see hurting people and you don't want to help them, if you don't want to increase funding for services or ban weapons of war, if you don't want to deal with housing the unhoused or showing compassion for migrants, if you don't want to do anything to stop the hurting, if you, in fact, want them to hurt, if you think everyday things people do, like ringing a doorbell, are threats that need deadly force, then they aren't the ones who have lost their humanity. You are. And if we keep allowing our leaders to make the country deadlier, then we aren't that far behind.