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The Elephant in the Room

January 19, 2013

OK – so here’s the rub. North America – not for the first time is in the middle of a gun debate. Anyone who knows me will know what side of this I sit on, however you will also know I try to gain context and understanding, so here is a place to start –

Over Xmas New Year we had a few Days down at Virginia Beach – only a Kiwi family would go there in early winter – it was sort of like a ghost town – a cold version of the movie ‘Paris, Texas’, part Vaudeville , part bad joke, knock over a few buildings and it would have been a perfect stage for Samuel Becketts play Waiting for Godot.

The most memorable thing for me of Virginia Beach itself was the bizarre sight of people cruising the promenade at night in their cars (during the day it is only for walking), paying for the privilege to view the Xmas lights – and most cars stopping at every display to take their ‘fantasy’ snap. The promenade is about 2 miles, and OK it was cold – but what the hell, get out of your car, put some winter woollies on and smell the bleedin’ Salt Sea air. Oh I forgot to mention – during this parade (and the cars were bumper to bumper all night – sorry fender to fender) – the promenade is closed to pedestrians and cyclists, and the cars have to pay. Fortunately it was sponsored by McDonald’s so at least some good came from it huh!


The Virginia Beach Xmas Lights from our Hotel room

Anyway back to the main point of this blog. Just inland from Virginia Beach – and the reason for the constant sound of airforce jets overhead was this:

Naval Station Norfolk (IATA: NGUICAO: KNGUFAA LID: NGU), in Norfolk, Virginia, is a base of the United States Navy, supporting naval forces in the United States Fleet Forces Command,[2] those operating in the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and Indian Ocean. NS Norfolk, also known as the Norfolk Naval Base, occupies about four miles (6 km) of waterfront space and seven miles (11 km) of pier and wharf space of the Hampton Roads peninsula known as Sewell’s Point. It is the world’s largest naval station, supporting 75 ships and 134 aircraft alongside 14 piers and 11 aircraft hangars, and houses the largest concentration of U.S. Navy forces.[3] Port Services controls more than 3,100 ships’ movements annually as they arrive and depart their berths.

Air Operations conducts over 100,000 flight operations each year, an average of 275 flights per day or one every six minutes. Over 150,000 passengers and 264,000 tons of mail and cargo depart annually on Air Mobility Command (AMC) aircraft and other AMC-chartered flights from the airfield’s AMC Terminal. It is the hub for Navy logistics going to the U.S. European Command and U.S. Central Command theaters of operations, as well as to the Caribbean areas under U.S. Southern Command.

We didn’t get too close to it nor take any photo’s but crossing the Norfolk bridge I am fairly certain I counted 8 aircraft carriers and other military boaty thingys.

It was mindboggling to me.

[As for what follows I need to point out at the outset I have the utmost respect for the people who have served their lives in the Military here and elsewhere. Indeed the nicest person I have met so far over here has spent most of his life in a Military role, and the only unkind thing I can find to say about him is that his generosity and warmth make me look rather curmudgeonly and mean!  I am merely trying to express a perspective, provide some reflection and make reason out of the many things I can never explain.]

To North Americans – and clearly to East Virginians however this is an everyday sight. It’s almost the equivalent to New Zealanders of a beautiful lake, a mountain, or perhaps as a more direct comparison – as a Beehive as your Parliamentary building (What! Yes sorry North American’s it’s sad but true all our New Zealand politicians think they are as busy as bees).

If you woke up every day with Military ships cruising by, Jets flying overhead and just from this one port alone 7-800 tonnes of mail and cargo being shipped out per day to Navy centres around the globe, then ‘hey’ how would that affect your thinking as to what is normal, what is necessary and what helps to keep the world a better and safer place?

And I don’t mean this with any disrespect, I mean it entirely with respect because I have no idea what my view would be were I brought up with that as my backdrop. I expect I would be much less pacifist than I am, and who knows with my gung–ho attitude as a youth I may have even joined them.

So now I’m closer to my point, if there is one. When you have a country imbued with such a backdrop of weaponry, of standing your ground and defending and freeing country and kind with ‘might and power’, and when based on all the evidence that surrounds you ‘this works’ (and indeed employs many of those around you), and when you don’t get to realistically examine or experience other alternative ways and the difficulty in doing so without such backdrop is immense – then how can you possibly move from this, and what impact does such an environment have on the way you think in general and the way you think on guns and your rights to defend yourself in general?

It is one of many layers I see within the gun debate over here, that in fact is getting very little attention. The issue is not the legislation, the health system, psychiatric care – it is all of those and many many other things. However what is the Elephant in the room?

The scariest thing I have yet seen on Television here (actually that is all pretty scary) is a guy who has served three tours of duty, fervently arguing against gun reform because he wanted to ensure he could hand his assault rifles down to his daughter (and in turn that she would have the right to defend herself against the government if need be). I don’t lose sleep about that, perhaps I should, but already it is becoming part of the backdrop which makes this country – well I guess so ‘American’.

All I can ever do is hope to observe and understand a teeny part of it, I know I have nowhere near enough years in me, and way too much of my own history to hope to UNDERSTAND it.

One day I hope to defend the right to pass my mountain bikes onto my two wonderful daughters. Is that too much to  ask?


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