By Marcus Fisk
October 13th marks the 240th anniversary of the U.S. Navy. Throughout its long history the Navy has maintained a tradition that exists today. The tradition dates from the days of sail; it is the tradition of identifying that individual on watch who is in charge of giving commands to the helmsman while the ship is underway at sea. That individual is said to have “the conn.”
On Monday September 28th the moon expanded its audience beyond its regular enthusiasts and astronomers to include most of the Earth’s inhabitants who tuned-in to observe the ‘Blood Moon’ – the first occurrence of its kind in 33 years. The moon’s beautiful, almost magical transformation on the heels of the triumphal, inter-denominational, and uplifting visit of Pope Francis to the U.S. lightened my spirit and softened my heart from its increasingly skeptical and chilling direction. Coupled with Speaker John Boehner’s surprise resignation announcement and his reasons why, my mind pondered the strange and astonishing coincidence of these forces coming together, creating a tipping point of unrestrained optimism for our country and the world.
I remembered it was only a week ago that the news was filled with images of boat people wading shore onto any European beach they could find. Hundreds of thousands of refugees, evacuees from Syria and Iraq fleeing the ravages of war from both sides – ISIL and the “legitimate” government of Syria – only to be scammed out of everything they had saved over the years by “entrepreneurs” living off the pain and misery of the unfortunate. Thousands upon thousands of refugees pouring into Europe looking for anything other than the chaos that has been their existence for the past four years and many dying without reaching the shores of tranquility. Now the leaders of Europe are trying desperately to handle the myriad of logistical issues dealing with hundreds of thousands of displaced people, the largest humanitarian refugee crisis to hit that continent since the end of World War II. I hoped that the Pope’s comments to the President, the Congress, and the U.N would help bring about a commitment to solving the crisis,
That evening I also watched Charlie Rose conduct a deft and pointed interview with the Eastern-European most-interesting-man-in-the-world wannabe — Soviet President, former Premier, former KGB, bare-chested equestrian, and all-around ladies-man — Vladimir Putin. Although I have long considered Putin to be a chancre on humanity (look it up – all definitions apply), this was the first time ever I thought he made some cogent, articulate, thoughtful remarks.
However, all that changed the next day.
Being a total guy, I turned on the television and with the artful dexterity of a millennial, switched the channel multiple times and landed on the Weather Channel. They reported that Joachin went from being a tropical storm to a full-fledged hurricane. I watched and listened to the usual blah-blah-blah of reporters/meteorologists hashing the pros and cons of the U.S. ‘model’ versus the European ‘model’ of storm track predictions while they ran footage of cars floating away in Fauquier County and homes running with the current down streets out in Southwest Virginia.
Over to CNN, I was stunned to see Wolf, Christiane, Brooke, Ashleigh, and scores of talking heads from every department, agency, and think tank affiliated with the government carry-on incessantly about the employment of Russian fighter aircraft in Syria and their intent to support the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
I flipped over to FOX News and watched as Senator John McCain cited abuse after abuse of the Russians in Ukraine, Crimea, and Georgia (the country not the home of Scarlet O’Hara). Then he turned up the heat on Assad by citing his responsibility or culpability in the murder/death of over 200,000 of his own citizens over the past four years of conflict in his own backyard. Now I was hearing that the Russians were going to conduct air combat missions over Syria to defeat the enemies of Bashar al-Assad.
I reflected on how absolutely insane that the Middle East has become in my lifetime. We have spent the last 35 years since President Carter declared “…an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States,” and it is to be “repelled by any means necessary.” His intent was to dissuade the then Soviet Union from attempting to increase its sphere of influence.
Then the big moment came. The entire news media was focused on the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, as he came to the podium at the Pentagon for a news conference. I waited to hear our voice of Mars tell the Russians to ‘pack sand’ – knock it off and get the hell back in their little corner of the world – and tell Assad that he better keep looking over his shoulder because a whole bunch of countries – some 60 all told — would be coming for his scalp any day now.
Secretary Carter issued a few words of bland general condemnation about Russians in Syria then he discussed the importance of Russia joining us in pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian crisis. His next major talking point was the importance of the 2016 DoD budget, why the government needs to avoid a shutdown, and women being admitted into the ranks of Special Operations Forces.
I sat dazed wondering what the hell happened to the country – and the world – I lived in. Just a day earlier all was right with the world – or at least as right as it could be. Now, the Secretary of Go-Kick-the-Door-Down-and-Fix-It had delivered a carefully crafted speech that had White House Advisors (read: “Attorneys”) all over it, plus a little note to Ash Carter to stay in his own sand box. With all the natural and man-made disasters that were brewing, spewing, or exploding all over the world I couldn’t stop wondering – who’s got the conn?
I switched on the radio to an oldies station and a CCR song was playing. Like Pope Francis and the lunar eclipse, I heard the strains of an all-familiar tune from my high school days. They seemed especially prescient:
I see the bad moon arising.
I see trouble on the way.
I see earthquakes and lightnin’.
I see bad times today.
Well, it’s bound to take your life,
There’s a bad moon on the rise.
I hear hurricanes a-blowing.
I know the end is coming soon.
I fear rivers over flowing.
I hear the voice of rage and ruin.
Hope you got your things together.
Hope you are quite prepared to die.
Looks like we’re in for nasty weather.
One eye is taken for an eye.
Marcus Fisk is a retired Navy Captain, Naval Academy graduate, sometime actor, sculptor, pick-up soccer player, playwright. He and his wife Pamela are former resident of Alexandria and currently live in Connecticut where the own a B&B.