I love Nebraska. I’ve had the occasion to go there over a dozen times, mostly for an annual Vietnam veterans reunion. I’ve crisscrossed the state and met hundreds of wonderful people. They were friendly, kind, and most welcoming, which is something a person from New Jersey never expected.
But I’m not writing about the whole state, I’m writing about one town in particular, one very special town; North Platte.
I’ve been to North Platte at least a half dozen times, and I love the town. But a recent article in The Wall Street Journal reminded me about the specialness of North Platte, something I’d like to share with you.
To tell this story, I have to go back in time, all the way back to World War II; but stay with me, because I’ll be bringing you right back to today at the end.
First of all, a little geography. North Platte was a stopping/ watering lcation for the Union Pacific railroad, which ran smack through the town. Back in those days, steam locomotives had to stop periodically to take on water for their steam engines. North Platte was always a stop. The Union Pacific, founded in 1862, was the first transcontinental railroad, running from Council Bluffs Iowa, to the Pacific Ocean.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and the United States was at war. Just ten days later, on December 17th, a train loaded with soldiers from the National Guard was on it’s way west. Thinking these were fellow Nebraskans, over 500 local people showed up to greet the train, bringing homemade cakes and pies and sandwiches for the troops.
It turned out that the troops were not from Nebraska, but were National Guard troops from Kansas. The townspeople fed them anyway, and the whole story starts there.
One woman from the town, Rae Wilson, thought it would be a good idea to meet all the trains. The next day she started working on the canteen. Volunteers poured in. Local merchants donated goods. By the day after Christmas, when the next train arrived, they were up and running. The North Platte Canteen was born.
Before long, train after train filled with troops were passing through and the locals were greeting 1000 troops a day; but that was only the beginning.
The word spread about the canteen, and donations and volunteers began to pour in. A coffee importer sent cans of coffee, churches sent turkeys and other food. Benefit dances and socials were held to raise money for the canteen. Volunteers from as far as two hundred miles away came in to serve food to the troops. Boy scout troops and other youth groups raised money. In all, people from over one hundred twenty five communities donated time and money to the canteen.
It was a time of rationing. Items like coffee, sugar and gasoline were rationed. People gave up their spare ration stamps to send to the canteen. Farmers sent produce to the canteen rather than selling it. The women showed kindness in many different ways. They helped soldiers write letters home, they passed out fruit, and magazines, and decks of cards. Every day they baked birthday cakes. Any soldier having a birthday that day got a birthday cake.
And the numbers kept growing as the war progressed. More and more trains arrived in North Platte, sometimes as many as 32 trains a day, from early morning until after midnight. Every train was met, every single train. In all over six million troopsstopped at the North Platte Canteen and were met with Nebraskan hospitality. Over 55,000 volunteers from across Nebraska volunteered their time at the canteen.
Watch this before reading on. We’re not done yet.
The war ended in August 1945. The canteen remained open, however, serving the trainloads of soldiers, sailor, and Marines who were now coming home. It finally closed it’s doors in April 1946. The building was demolished in 1973, so the North Platte Canteen is gone….
But not yet.
Now we come to today.
This past June, less than two months ago. A National Guard unit from Arkansas completed it’s annual training in Wyoming. Over 700 National Guardsmen would be returning home, this time by bus; 21 buses in all. The bus company noted that North Platte was along the route, and contacted the local visitors bureau to see if they could handle that many troops, in and out, for a quick snack.
They had no idea the response they would get.
The word went out and literally hundreds of North Platte citizens showed up to volunteer. This time it was at the North Platte Events Center. The Canteen building was gone, but it was revived in spirit. The Arkansas troops were met with sandwiches, salads, and fruit, cakes, brownies and cookies. The mayor stood at the door and shook the hand of every soldier.
The world may have changed, but North Platte had not. When service members pass through their town, it’s something they will never forget.
That’s who these people are. This is the Heartland. This is America.
I was walking into a WaWa recently, and a cop was coming out. He held the door open for me. I picked up my pace a bit to get to the door, and he said “Take your time Old Timer, take your time…”.
Old Timer? Indeed. It was a first, and it hit me like a two by four. What the hell does that mean? Is that like Old Codger? I looked it up in the dictionary, and Merriam-Webster defines it as “a person who has a lot of experience…”. Not bad — not great, but not bad. An Old Codger, it turns out is a little different; that’s an “eccentric but amusing old man…”. At least he didn’t call me that.
The cop was right, of course, and he wasn’t being disrespectful, quite the opposite; but still…
I have been around for awhile, coming up on three score and thirteen (figure that one out if you can). I’ve had my AARP card for a long time now. I’ll accept Senior Citizen, or as Rush Limbaugh calls us Seasoned Citizens. Reaching retirement age is hard to deny. It may be hard to believe that I’ve lived this long, but I can’t deny it. Reflecting on that, I’ve seen quite a bit in the course of my lifetime:
I’ve lived through fourteen Presidents, the Korean War (I was young, but remember it), and Alaska and Hawaii becoming states. The first late night talk show on TV with Steve Allen; the Salk polio vaccine; the beginning of somthing called “Rock and Roll”, and Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show. I remember Sputnik.
I remember the “new” movie techniques; Technicolor and CinemaScope. and a new sound called Stereo. I watched the first TV show broadcast in color (Bonanza), ate at the first McDonalds in my area, ten cent hamburgers. I remember watching Don Larsen pitch the first, and still the only perfect game in a World Series.
I remember well JFK and the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missle crisis. I remember the Berlin Wall, and the day it fell. I vividly recall when Kennedy was shot, and watched Oswald get shot by Jack Ruby on live TV. I played my role making history in Vietnam.
I watched the first man land on the moon, and followed the Nixon impeachment hearings on TV. I remember Three Mile Island and when the Iranians took our people hostage. I remember Abscam and when Reagan was shot. I remember watching the Challenger blow up on live TV.
All these things and so much more happened during my lifetime, so I guess I am pretty seasoned.
The world has changed quite a bit over those years, but isn’t it always changing? Time seems to move much faster these days, but there are still twenty-four hours in a day.
Maybe we know we’re old, but we just don’t like that being pointed out to us. Our culture has always celebrated youth; it’s programmed into us. To be young is to be handsome or beautiful, strong and vital, and full of life. To be old, not so much. Old people are just there. Most younger people don’t really even see us, they see an image of what they will eventually become and don’t necessarily like that they see.
That’s okay, we were the same way when we were young. We get it.
While you were enjoying (or not) the exceptionally warm weekend of June 30 — July 1, you likely did not know that Saturday, June 30th was International Asteroid Day. It’s a commemorative date of sorts, marking the day of June 30, 1908, when the “Tunguska event” took place in Siberia.
On that day, 110 years ago, an extra-terrestial object flattened over 770 square miles of Siberian forest. No one knows exactly what caused it. It is largely thought to be an air-burst of a meteorite, perhaps exploding around five miles up in the air. This is considered an impact event, even though it left no impact crater, just scortched earth. Estimates of the object’s size suggest it was about the size of one or two football fields.
It may have been a comet, it may have been an asteroid, no one really knows, but early estimates of the size of the explosion (since disputed), put the force at about 15 megatons of TNT, about 1000 times greater than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The blast flattened some 80 million trees. Due to the remote location, there were no human casualities, but it would have easily destroyed a large city.
So is this interesting or relevant? Maybe or maybe not, but it is a fact that we recently had a visit from our first inter-stellar (not from our solar system) flying object, called ʻOumuamua. It passed by us a few months ago, and buzzed on out , back in to deep space. It was a bit smaller than the object in 1908, about the size of a football field. It may have been a comet, but it was so small and moved so fast, scientists are not sure. The interesting part is that it originated from somewhere out in space, and we don’t know where. It did not come close to earth in our terms, about 124 million miles away, about the distance between Mars and Jupiter. In space distances, however, it was pretty damn close. Here’s an artist conception, click on the image for a larger view:
So here’s what got me started on this piece: Many years ago, way back in 1977, I read a book called Lucifer’s Hammer. It was a sci-fi novel, the first apocalyptic novel I recall reading. By coincidence, I stumbled on a copy of the book as I was packing up some old books to donate to the library. All the other books went, but Lucifer fell out, and hid under the driver seat of my car. I just found it, so I thought I should write about it, and here we are.
The book was dramatic to say the least. Lucifer, which turns out to be a comet, breaks up upon entering the earth’s atmosphere, and creates havoc around the world. Chaos ensues, and the rest of the story follows the survivors in the post-apolcalypic world.
There have been countless end-of-the-world scenarios; they are one of the mainstays of Hollywood. With out an apocalypse of some sort, countless movies from Mad Max to Independence Day to the World War Z zombie apocalypse would never have been made. All this doesn’t even include TV series like The Walking Dead.
Most of the movies and TV shows do quite well, at the box office and in TV ratings. We seem to enjoy the notion of the world ending in some sort of dramatic and spectacular fashion. Perhaps we imagine ourselves as one who survives, or hope we would be one of the ones who doesn’t.
It seems from what I’ve read, that people, especially Christians have been having notions of the Apocalypse for centuries. Generation after generation, some folks think they are living in the end of times; that it’s going to be all over during their lifetime. Early thoughts of an apocalypse were often Bible-related, God ending mankind in some catastrophic way, perhaps an asteroid.
Modern society (and Hollywood) has of course expanded on the theme. We (society) can meet our demise in an endless variety of permutations, from space invaders, to viruses, to zombies, not to mention prehistoric dinosauers if we visit the wrong theme park.
So, why? What is the fascination with mega-disaster? Why do we fill movie theaters, almost gleefully watch people die by the thousands while we chomp on popcorn and candy?
I can’t say I had any real ideas about this, but looking around online, I found a few interesting pieces.
One suggested than an apocalypse must have two parts. The first is that real life always seem on the brink; poor leaders, broken economy, global warming, you name it; disaster is right around the corner. The second part, and the most interesting is it never actually happens. Millions may die, the world may be in shambles, but there are always survivors. Someone is left to start over, to re-boot the human race, better than before. So the essence of the apocalypse becomes hope.
To be sure, some films break this tradition. On the Beach, and These Final Hours, both nuclear disaster movies, come to mind. But they are generally the exception to the rule. Most often, there are survivors, embattled, desheveled, and barely holding on sometimes, but by golly, the human race will survive!
There are a couple of other theories out there which merit some discussion. The first one is that we just love to watch destruction. Sound lame? Then why do people rubber-neck at auto accidents, or why does a fire draw a crowd? Is there something in our nature that likes watching things destroyed? Another is that we have a fascination with death, and that death on a large scale lets us watch from the comfort of our movie seat.
Another theory is that the apocalypse lets mankind start over. We screwed up, but we won’t the next time. It also lets indivduals theorize how they would fit in in a new world. Would they be a leader? A follower? A taker? A giver? Mankind gets another chance.
Another thing — apocalyptic movies often open in the summer. The summer “blockbuster” is often about mayhem or one kind or another.
Sooooo…. We’ve come a long way from Asteroid Day, but that sometimes happens when I just shoot off in a direction. Going back to original topic, just remember there are millions of asteroids out there — maybe one of them has our name on it.
One of the things which comes up frequently in the immigation controversy is asylum — immigrants seeking special protection from dangers and/or risks in their own country.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), asylum protection can be offered to people who have suffered persecution or fear they will suffer persection because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Notice the fairly narrow definition. Essentially it says that a particular person must be able to identify one of these specific reasons, and that they have been or are at danger of suffering persecution because of it. This is important, because we will be coming back this this definition.
Refugee and Special Situations
The USCIS notes special situations which could allow entrance into the United States of humanatarian concern, such as natual disasters. Generally speaking refugees and are not expected to stay in the United States, and are “sheltered” only until the situation which caused their flight from their country is resolved. As we shall see, this definition has been allowed to expand to cover several areas beyond its original intent.
The USCIS also designates “Temporary Protected Status” (TPS) for refugees from countries considered to be in turmoil. There are currently ten countries on this list, but for the purposes of this article, we will only be looking at some countries in Central America: El Salvador (9/9/19), and Honduras (1/5/20). The dates in parenthesis are the dates when this temporary status are schedule to end, but these dates can be changed.
Ostensibly, the TPS for the above countries was issued due to natural disasters: El Salvador: Earthquakes (2001), Nicaragua: Hurricane Mitch (1998), Honduras: Hurricane Mitch (1998). Notice these “temporary” protections are now twenty years old.
Immigrants from countries with TPS cannot be deported as long as the TPS is in effect. TPS holders reside all over the U.S. Most TPS holders from El Salvador live in the Washington, DC (32,359), Los Angeles (30,415) and New York (23,168) metropolitan areas. Honduran TPS holders live mostly in the New York (8,818), Miami (7,467) and Houston (6,060) metropolitan areas. (11)
The only thing stable about some of the countries that make up Central America is their instablity. Plagued by poverty, crime, and disease, this region suffers from continous instability.
Three countries form the “Northern Triangle” of Central America: Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. They have a combined population of about thirty million people. The average per capita income in these three countries is $6793. Per capita income in the United States is $58030.
The smallest and most densely populated country in Central America (6.4 million), with a per capita income of $8900/year. It has the highest murder rate in the world, 60/100,000. (4) (7) (8)
From Wikipedia: “From the late 19th to the mid-20th century, El Salvador endured chronic political and economic instability characterized by coups, revolts, and a succession ofauthoritarianrulers… …devastating Salvadoran Civil War (1979–1992), which was fought between the military-led government and a coalition of left-wing guerrillagroups… …the country continues to struggle with high rates of poverty, inequality, and crime.”
According to CBS News some 60,000 to 100,000 members of the infamous MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs terrorize the population throughout the country, causing many to flee for the United States (2)
In an interesting , if ironic footnote, the second largest gang in El Salvador, M-18 (also known as the 18th Street Gang), also actually originated in Los Angeles, and expanded south to El Salvador, sort of a north-south cultural exchange.
Sky News presents an interesting video of the realities of El Salvador today. It’s a little long (23 minutes), but interesting:
Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for some 195,000 Salvadorans currently in the United States ends in September 2019. President Trump has indicated he will not extend this date, making these TPS participants liable for deportation.
Guatemala has a population of 15.5 million and an annual per capita income of $8200. It has a murder rate of 26/100,000, and ranks as the 15th highest murder rate in the world (4) (7) (8)
Between 1954 and 1996, Guatemala suffered a series of coups and a civil war, destablizing the country. US involvement during this time period was not insignificant. Since then, Guatemalan politics have been rife with scandal. In 2016 a UN prosecutor described the government as a crime syndicate. Crime is high in Guatemala, largely as a result of continuing conflicts between the government and the people left over from the civil war. Guatemala is also a major drug trafficking route for drugs coming north from South America and headed to the United States. Guatemala is also known for human trafficking, including sex trafficking. Both MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang operate in Guatemala. There are an estimated 32,000 gang members in the country.
Since 2016 Guatemala has four times requested Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Gualamalans illegally in the United States, based on volcanos and other natural disasters. TPS has not been approved.
The third of our “Northern Triangle” countries of Central America is Honduras. Honduras has a population of about 9.1 million people, an annual per capita income of $5500, and a murder rate of 54/100,000 people, making it the 2nd highest murder rate in the world. (7)(8)
Like other countries in Central America, Honduras has suffered a variety of internal conflicts and governments, and interventions by the United States over the years. The term “Banana Republic” was first used to describe the country by author O. Henry in 1904.
In addition to dealing with hurricanes and other natural disasters, Honduras suffered a coup d’etat in 2009, that was condemned by both the Organization of American States and the United Nations, who called the new government illegal.
Temporary protected Status (TPS) granted to Hondurans after the 1998 Hurrican Mitch, is due to expire in January 2020. President Trump has indicated he will not renew this status, making 57,000 Hundurans currently in the United States liable to deportation.
The Failed States
At this point we get subjective. The fundamental definition of a failed state is “a state whose political or economic system has become so weak that the government is no longer in control” (Google Definitions).
The three countries in this article are technically not “failed”, but are considered “fragile” states by the non-profit Fund for Peace(12). The factors considered in evaluating countries are social, economic, and political. Each of these three countries fall within the “Warning” bracket of potentially failing states. The states are scored every year, and these countries exhibit a continually downward trend. In other words, it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse.
It should be noted that the United States provides foreign aid to these countries, mostly for education and agriculture, a total of about $50 million per year for all three combined, about the same provided to Bosnia ($49 million), less than to the Congo ($60 million), and far less than to Afghanistan ($126 million).
Which unfortunately brings us, once again back to the major problem faced in each of these countries: crime.
That’s the MS-13 motto above. We’ve written about these bad boys before, but their impact on these countries, and the resultant flow of immigrants seeking asylum from them appears to be the single largest factor in the migration north.
“Mara Salvatrucha” is the name. “Mara” is slang for “gang”, and “Salvatruchas” are supposedly peasants trained to become guerilla fighters. The “13” denotes their affiliation with the “Surenos”, a group of gangs that pay tribute to the Mexican Mafia while in prison. Other variants of this explanation exist.
Ironically, this gang was home grown in the USA. The gang was formed by Salvadoran immigrants in the 1980’s in Los Angeles. The gang was created to protect Salvadorans from other gangs of Mexican and Afro-Americans. When gang members were caught committing crimes, they typically were deported back to El Salvador. This allowed them to recruit in Central America, and expand rapidly. Another similar gang, the Barrio 18, or 18th Street Gang, also formed in Los Angeles, and has a similar history. These two gangs account for the 60,000 to 100,000 gang members in El Salvador alone, along with another 32,000 in Guatemala, and thousands more in Honduras. There are an estimated 10,000 MS-13 members currently in the United States.
It needs to be noted that MS-13 is not a drug trafficking cartel. Though they have had some minor affiliations with Mexican Cartels, especially the Sinaloa Cartel, the gang’s participation in the drug trade is minor, perhaps due to a distrust between the primarily El Salvadoran members and the Mexicans. Murder, rape, extortion, prostitution and human trafficking are the calling cards of MS-13. In essense they are thugs, not nearly sophisticated enough to operate as a drug cartel.
Which brings us to the actual problem as it relates to the United States.
These gangs are essentally terrorists, and strongest in Central America. Their tactics, combined with ineffectual and/or corrupt governments in these countries have created a growing migration of people fleeing these countries and headed for the United States.
They head for the United States seeking asylum. Asylum from the criminal gangs terrorizing their countries. But they are also economic migrants, trying to escape poverty and failing government.
Coming back to our original definition of asylum, seeking protection from persecution: How does their claim match the policies of the United States? How liberal or how strict should the granting of asylum be? Remember, there are over thirty million people in these three countries. How many should the US allow, and for how long? A few years, until things possibly get better in their countries? Twenty years? Forever?
Most of these immigrants are low-skill, poorly educated people. Who supports them, and how will they fit in to the US economy? There are no easy answers to these questions. These problems will likely continue and increase in the coming years. It is the responsbility of the Congress of the United States to confront these problems and create suitable immigration laws, something they have failed to do for decades. Time is running out for decisions. Left alone, we will find ourselves with thousands or even millions of immigrants clamoring to get into the United States, and a government of our own who is failing both them and us.