WALLS WORK IN TWO DIRECTIONS

The year is 2020. As I sit by the front porch and walkway, leading from the driveway which is behind large iron gates, or by the pool gazing up at the night sky of Tucson with the stars and puffy white clouds it reminds me of looking upward when living in the Middle East. It looked just the same and it was warm there as well. It always reminds me how it creates a sense of freedom. Of course that's just perspective. In the late 1970's I spent a number of years living in a country ruled by a dictator and the sky was the same offering the occasional look of freedom.

My advantage at the time was being a guest of the country where someone with my education and professional training was needed. Many of the working class Americans in country had their passport taken upon arrival and returned when they had permission to leave. We were part of a Dept. of Defense (DOD) contract supplying military equipment to the country. Due to my position I had possession of my passport along with a multiple exit/entry visa. There were times it was necessary for me to leave on a moment's notice as a medical emergency, handling the movement of a Prince, a military General or maintenance in Europe on the airplane. You see, I was a professional corporate pilot. It was a job that enabled me to see different countries in the region like Iran, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Pakistan and Syria. I'll bet most of my flying friends have never experienced being met on the ramp by armed guards standing in front of the aircraft wings preventing you from leaving until checking in with the authorities and presenting your documents showing prior approval to land. Other countries include Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Switzerland (where I lived for a time), Germany, France, Ireland, UK, Belgium, Iceland, Turkey, Venezuela and more. As well as a number of Asian countries. Some were free and some weren't. A couple that were free now are authoritarian. Oh yes, it really does happen. Also those in South America, when I lived for several months in Brazil flying to area cities and countries, like Argentina and Barbados to name a few. All of this offered me the opportunity of meeting and seeing the people, their lifestyles and their governments. It gave me a broad perspective of the aspects of living under an authoritarian government versus a democracy. Something most Americans would never experience. Well, that's what I believed at the time but we now live in different times and our country could soon be in the forefront of neo-fascism. Don't just listen to me, listen to historians and experts on these subjects. It sure seems many Americans are willing to sacrifice democracy simply to realize some idealistic desire. Doesn't seem like a very good tradeoff.

One of the things I quickly noticed after leaving the U.S. and arrival in country was the local people aren't much different throughout the world. They had jobs, the kids went to school, Mom took care of the shopping and the family enjoyed weekends together. They had their own dreams so I quickly realized the American Dream was no different or special. Of course they had to obey the demands of the ruler and local authorities. People couldn't gather and protest the King. Religious law was also imposed. If a person violated the "law" harsh punishment was often administered. As a guest in the country we were also expected to respect the "law". Being a westerner didn't give us exception. For example if someone was sentenced to death it was normally by the sword. If you were in town during an execution when the streets in and out of the square were sealed then you witnessed the beheading. I knew people caught in this situation but must say it was an experience I missed. There were other things I did see.

When we went downtown shopping the street corners had someone in military uniform holding a small machine gun. They normally didn't interfere but with one exception when I had my fancy 35mm Minolta camera hanging from my neck. He stopped me and touched the lens shaking his finger back and forth. There was no doubt about the implication. I looked at him and said in a respectful manner no, no. So as long as we obeyed orders and kept our thoughts and views to ourselves we stayed out of trouble.

It didn't always go so well. One of the company Vice Presidents said something in a meeting with a couple of young representatives from the government and they apparently found his remarks disrespectful. The next day I received assignment to make a flight to Athens that night. He and his wife were on their way to Greece to catch a flight to the U.S. They were being deported.

Many people over the world live in a controlled manner. Freedom is not something they enjoy. It's something you can learn to live without if necessary. All you need do is tell yourself this is normal and look to the sky. Go to work, school, do the shopping and don't say anything. Is this coming to the United States? As someone said to me "It's what the American people want". If you don't speak out is this what you want? I'm cynical and believe it's too late. I hope I'm wrong but my visions often prove correct. Long story short - I knew someone who's grandfather took his wife and daughter out of their country. He told his relatives they need to get out. They thought it would be okay. He left and eventually made his way to Canada and then to St. Louis where he resumed his dental practice. The relatives who stayed, every last one died in the concentration camp gas chambers. He was a visionary.

In 1978 we were in Nuremberg, Germany for aircraft maintenance. With my crew members we decided to take the weekend and go to Munich for Oktoberfest or travel to Berlin. We decided on Berlin. I'd driven to Bonn several days before to the U.S. Embassy for a travel visa for one of our young pilots. He was seen taking a picture of the airport from the cockpit, the film was confiscated and viewed then the next day he was advised he had 48 hours to depart the country. Since we were on a planned maintenance flight to Germany we took him with us. He was so terrified he didn't speak during the entire flight and expressed his relief upon arriving in Germany. I'd never seen someone that scared.

Off we went to Berlin. We crossed the border into East Germany and hadn't even come up to speed in the Mercedes. Suddenly as I looked at the highway ahead there was a fellow in one of those heavy gray flannel coats you've seen in the movies. He was waving his hands above his head in the common "stop" gesture. I stopped and on the side of the road was one of those trucks with the canvas covering and more guards sitting on both sides. You've probably seen this scene in the movies. He didn't speak a word of English. He looked at my passport and kept pointing at the picture and the instrument panel in the car. After a bit of time it came to me he wanted my international driver's license. That did the trick. So now he began filling out his clipboard. He handed me the completed document from which I was able to discern the speed limit was 100 kph and I was going 120 clicks. Oh, the fine was 120 deutschmarks payable before being allowed to leave. Thankfully I hadn't been going over 200 like the day before on the Autobahn. Turns out when crossing the border the passport stamp includes a time and how long it takes to the Berlin border checkpoint is a given. Speed is tightly controlled with radar. Arrive late and the car will be torn apart looking for a stowaway trying to escape the East. Best to arrive on time. We crossed at the checkpoint and even then received unfriendly looks of scrutiny from the East German border guard as our papers were examined, maybe you've seen the movie.

We began sightseeing and covered the entire length of the wall before realizing it encircled West Berlin which wasn't in West Germany as most Americans believed. It was in East Germany making it an island of sorts. Now, the reason for the Berlin Airlift in 1948 meant something, the roads were closed by the Soviets trying to starve West Berlin. Growing up in the 1940's I didn't understand these things being a youngster. I've been on both sides and climbed on the Berlin Wall taking pictures of the guards in the towers taking pictures of me taking pictures of them. Turned out it was the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the DDR, commonly known as East Germany. There were 100,000 police in East Berlin that weekend. Everywhere we looked, church steeples, windows of building, etc. we saw a dark figure peering out and ducking back when I raised my camera. As I looked over the Berlin wall at East Germans only a matter of meters away looking out of their apartment windows at me I quickly realized "Walls work in both directions". On Saturday evening we could hear the roar of the screams from the celebrating crowd in the stadium on the east side. It was one of the most chilling sounds I've ever heard. I told my crew members if they ever turn those people loose on us we're in big trouble. Here it is 42 years later and El Presidente held a rally two weeks before the election in Tucson. Looking at the news my grandson said the screams from those people are strange. This triggered my memory of East Berlin. I never gave it a thought these kind of people would be turned loose on us from within our own country. Be careful.

When I moved overseas and began reading international newspapers and talking with people it quickly dawned on me the degree of patriotic propaganda we are exposed to in the U.S. starting as a child. Someone said to me "once an expat always an expat". It's took me decades to fully understand that statement. Living overseas opens one's eyes. My grandson told me when the family moved to Shanghai, China in 2009, when he was 12 years old, and he started at the international school he quickly discovered we aren't as well thought of or as smart as we think we are. I was impressed while visiting with the diversity of children at their school when they invited me to read in a classroom. I was also impressed when traveling by train to other Chinese cities with the friendliness and polite behavior of the people and their affluence is very evident. After six years they moved to Germany for three then moved back to China. When he was 19 he said he didn't want to live in the United States. He doesn't.

A short time back a young guest writer for the Huffington Post told the story about her parents coming to America from Vietnam. She realizes there is so much racism and inequality in the United States. As she put it "My generation, however, is perhaps the first to see America in decline, crumbling right before our very eyes. More than a third of young adults in America believe there are better countries than the U.S. I'm one of them".  She says- "let's be honest, Trump is a symptom of the rot, not the rot itself". "I want to go somewhere where health care is considered a right, not a privilege, and where a gun isn't considered more valuable than a human life. Somewhere where my freedom isn't predicated on how much money I can funnel into the economy. Where true justice doesn't feel improbable, even impossible". "By leaving America, I'll hope I'll be able to continue that quintessential American pastime, which feels so impossible right now: to dream, and dream, and dream".

In many aspects she's correct, my son moved to France to finish his Industrial Arts education and married a French girl, then became a French citizen and when he became sick and died of Cancer his health care was a given. I visited the hospitals and doctors and contrary to what Americans believe much of the health care and doctors are just as good and in some cases better. My daughter had a much better doctor in Germany than she had in Florida.

I've had enough of the current political reality TV political S*** show. I'll take Democracy and freedom over dictatorship but dreams can turn to nightmare. My experiences are ones few people in America have witnessed or would comprehend and they by far outweigh opinions. I've always made a promise to myself not to compromise my values but at 80 I'm worried of being too old to leave. If things go wrong I'd want to sell my beautiful home in the foothills and move to another country. Done it before! But I'm afraid at my age looking for the sky under freedom might not be feasible if my health should decline. We've discussed me moving around for six months at a time to different countries. I never could have imagined being born and living my life in an essentially free country then ending up being trapped behind the wall of dictatorship. This is a tragic event in which another visionary foresaw. Plato distinguishes five forms of government: aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny. He writes that governments devolve respectively in this order from aristocracy into tyranny.

It seems Americans have become complacent and apathetic thinking all will be fine. Many in other countries over the ages have found themselves in the same predicament to their misfortune. Plato covered the downfall of Democracy extensively in his teachings. September 2020 - "For weeks, Belarusians have filled the streets of their cities to insist that their votes are sacred. Beatings, grenades, flash bangs, arrests, torture, and disappearances by the state have neither deterred them nor driven them to violence. Some commentators have said that the United States is not yet Belarus. This is true enough, though we are closer than seemed imaginable just a few years ago. The real question is whether Americans have what it takes to be Belarusians".

So, here is something to think about. Let's say you are one of those with ideological or religious views, are you willing to give up democracy for your short term gain? These are the options:
1. Listen to the demagogue and choose the path that leads us into dictatorship. This will not be a short term circumstance and will set the stage for the lives of you as well as your children and grandchildren. No turning back.
2. Choose a candidate you may not like but who'll at least resume some normalcy and protect democracy. He probably won't push through some of the policies you like or even those you don't like - that's democracy. After some changes are made to protect us from authoritarianism in the future you'll have a chance to vote for your favorite candidate next time. At least there will be a next time. Our future depends on it. Please don't take things for granted. Oh yes, it really does happen.