Karma and War

August 13th, 2017


“I feel very strongly that I am under the influence of things or questions which were left incomplete or unanswered by my parents and grandparents and more distant ancestors. It often seems as if there were an impersonal karma within a family, which is passed on from parents to children. It has always seemed to me that I had to answer questions which fate had posed to my forefathers, and which had not yet been answered, or as if I had to complete, or perhaps continue, things that previous ages had left unfinished.” – Carl Jung from Memories, Dreams, Reflections


You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger.” – Buddha


“What goes around, comes around.” – definition of karma. Source is anonymous


“I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” – Exodus 20:5-6


Our son, Hans, calls us frequently from his home in Texas. Mostly, he talks about work, but sometimes he reminisces about his deployment in Iraq. When he is in an introspective mood, he wonders why he felt so much like he belonged there, and why he was/is so good with weapons. He wonders why he felt at peace in the midst of war. He considers the possibility of reincarnation: that perhaps he had been a warrior in a previous life, and that maybe he had fought in that same desert in some other age.


I wonder about these things too. I don’t know what conclusions to draw from Hans’ experiences. I do know that he went to war for a reason, and that reason is not necessarily rational or clearly discernible. The path of Hans’ life has been a decidedly strange one. I have attempted to determine the causes of his life’s trajectory, and I find myself coming up short. There are too many things I don’t know, and there are too many things I know, but do not understand.

Our family has a history of military service. My dad was a petty officer in the Navy during the Korean War time frame. Hans’ maternal grandfather, Max, was a radio man in the Luftwaffe during World War II. I am a West Point graduate (Class of 1980), and I was an Army helicopter pilot during the Cold War in West Germany. The legacy is there, whether we like it or not.


Hans joined the Army despite the best efforts of Karin (my wife) and myself to keep him away from the military. After I resigned my Army commission, I resolved never to let our children join the military or go to war. Karin fervently agreed with that course of action. We never let any of our kids play with toy guns. We sent them all, at certain times in their childhoods, to a Waldorf school, which had this sort of Gandhi-like emphasis on non-violence.


Later, we focused out attention on Hans, seeing as he came of age a few years after 9/11. When Hans turned eighteen in 2005, I went to a meeting with the local Quaker community to find out how to get Hans in the Selective Service system as a conscientious objector. I worked with Hans to establish a paper trail indicating that he didn’t want to go to war. In hindsight it is obvious to me that Hans just wanted to appease me by going through this process. Whatever. In January on 2007, Hans went with me to Washington, D.C. for an anti-war protest. He claims that I conned him into going. I don’t remember it like that, but he was there with me regardless.


Hans moved to Texas shortly after that (we have family there), and he looked for work as a carpenter. He couldn’t find a decent job because the recession of 2008 hit him hard. The next thing we knew was that he had joined the Army in the autumn of 2009. Wow.


Karin and I went to Hans’ graduation from basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky in 2010. Then Hans got stationed at Fort Hood with the Armored Cav. Then he went to Iraq in 2011. Hans wasn’t in Iraq long, but he was a busy man. He got shot twice (once in the chest with a 7.62 round, which was stopped by his body armor). He has told me about killing three people, two of them up-close and personal. Hans saw war and all of its horrors. He participated in the blood-letting. Then he came home.


Hans came back different. He came back to us a changed man. He came back comfortable with violence. He came back haunted by nightmares. He also came back feeling self-confident and more assertive. He was no longer shy or self-effacing. Hans came back mature, much older than his chronological age. Hans came back as his own man. He wasn’t just my son any more.




I tend to agree with Carl Jung’s notion of family karma (see the quotation at the beginning of this essay). There are currents that flow through a family that cannot be dammed up, or thwarted. I don’t understand why that should be. It could be genetic, or cultural, or perhaps something of a spiritual nature. However, there are things in motion that are simply unstoppable. When I think back on our experience with Hans, I have a vision of myself standing on a railroad track, facing an oncoming freight train. I can see the train’s headlight and I can hear its air horn. I see the engine rushing toward me. I get run over.


About fifteen years ago, I met up with a family friend from Texas, Peter. Peter was a massage therapist at the time, along with having a doctorate in microbiology, and being a profoundly religious person. In addition to massage, he would do spiritual healing sessions. I went to him for one of those. The session is a bit difficult to describe, but essentially it was like massage therapy, except that Peter had a vision, like an internal movie, while he worked on me. Peter saw what my spirit was up to, while my body laid on his table. After an hour or so, Peter told me his vision. There is no reason for anybody to take his observations seriously, except for the fact that he knew a number of things about my life that he had no business knowing.


I don’t remember very much of what Peter told me. Visions are like dreams: hard to follow, and harder to remember. However, I remember one part in particular. Peter told me that in his vision he saw me surrounded by my ancestors. We were all chanting together. Then the music stopped, and an angel said, “Frank no longer needs to sing the song of his ancestors. He can now sing his own song.”


That dovetails with what Jung said. Until I was in my forties, I had to sing the song of my forefathers and foremothers. I had to finish their work. For whatever reason, they had to lay down their tools with the job half done. It was up to me, and my generation, to complete their assigned tasks. So, whose work does Hans complete? Whose song does he sing?


Somehow, Hans and his siblings have to finish the work of the past before they can start anew. Somehow, Hans had to go to war. After five years of him being back in the States, it feels like his journey to Iraq was necessary and inevitable. I can’t understand it, but that is how it feels to me.


What about free will? What about individual responsibility? Even if Hans had to deploy, he had choices to make in the war. He created new karma by his actions there. He was thrust into a situation, but he still had options available to him. He had free will, albeit within a limited scope.


Hans makes no excuses for what he did, or for who he is now. I believe that his karma led him to war. What he actually did during that war was the result of his own choices. His soul is seared by his experiences in Iraq. The real question is: “What will he do now?”


Don’t End DACA

August 10th, 2017 (letter from me to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

“So far, President Trump has made good on his promise to clamp down on illegal immigrants in this country.

He has claimed that his focus is to deport dangerous criminals from the United States, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement has cast its net much wider than that, arresting and deporting people who have done nothing wrong except to reside in the United States without proper documentation. To his credit, Trump has not eliminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Obama’s executive order that allows undocumented young people to remain in America without the threat of deportation. That is at least something.

Unfortunately, ten states have threatened to sue the federal government to make Trump reverse the DACA order. If Trump gets rid of DACA, roughly 800,000 young people will  be suddenly subject to deportation. These are people who were brought to the United States as small children and who know no other country that the U. S.

I know some of these “Dreamers”. They are ambitious and talented. They only want to be part of America and their local community. Trump needs to resist pressure to end DACA. These kids belong here with us.”







Trump and Afghanistan

August 11th, 2017 (article from me to the Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin)

“Dear Editor: I was amazed to read that President Trump believes that he can somehow win the war in Afghanistan by firing the current commander there, Gen. John Nicholson. Apparently, Trump complained in a meeting that we are “losing” in Afghanistan, and therefore it must be the fault of Nicholson. After 16 years and a trillion dollars, we’re losing? No kidding. Nobody has ever won in Afghanistan. Ask the British or the Russians. It’s not called the “graveyard of empires” for nothing.

President Trump also commented that he doesn’t want to listen to his military leaders any more, because they give “lousy” advice. He can do that. There is a precedent for it. Hitler didn’t listen to his generals either.”


The Music that Sounds like Barbecue

October 12th, 2013

What Donald Trump Doesn’t Understand About Immigration

August 4th, 2017 (article from me to the Chicago Tribune)

President Donald Trump and two conservative Republican members of the U.S. Senate are promoting legislation to severely limit legal immigration into our country. I want to emphasize that this proposed law has only to do with legal immigration. It would cut in half the number of people able to apply for green cards. It would also set up a “merit-based system,” which would somehow only allow the “best” people to enter the United States.

I help to teach a citizenship class at Voces de la Frontera in Milwaukee. I primarily tutor immigrants from Mexico. These are green card holders who have been in this country for several years. They work as forklift operators, cooks, machinists and landscapers. These people obey the laws of our nation, they work full time, and they pay their taxes. These adult students contribute to their communities, and they are an asset to all of us. They will all be good and loyal citizens.

The fact is that, under Trump’s proposed immigration rules, none of these people would ever have made it this far. They would have never qualified for a permanent resident card. Actually, my wife would not have qualified either. And, come to think of it, my ancestors, who came here over a hundred years ago from Slovenia as unskilled labor, would never have become residents or citizens.

This new legislation would keep out the people who will make America great again.

A Pack of Smokes

December 6th, 2016

Hans called. The night before last he was at a local gas station in Columbus, Ohio. He had parked on the side of the road, because his big, ol’ diesel pick up truck doesn’t fit well in the parking lot of the filling station. Hans grabbed a pack of smokes and went back to his truck. Some guy came out of the darkness, and aimed a .22 at Hans. He told Hans to give him his wallet.

Now, Hans has been shot with a .22. That happened when he was in Iraq. Somebody put a hole in Hans’ leg during a firefight. Hans looked at the mugger and his gun, and calculated the odds of getting killed by this guy.

Hans reaction to his assailant was, “Really… a .22 ?” Hans pulled out his revolver from under his shirt It was a Taurus Judge. The Judge uses .45 LC ammo or 410 shotshells. I fired one with Hans a couple years ago. Big bang, big hole. Hans figured that, unless the robber shot him in the head or the heart, he would survive. The chances of the assailant walking away after being hit with a .45 slug were minimal. The wannabe robber fled the scene and dropped his .22 pistol. So, now Hans has it.

I mentioned to Hans that the .22 was probably hot. He jokingly responded that it was okay. If he needed to use it for some reason, the gun could never be traced to him. I hadn’t considered that.

Never a dull moment.

Angel at a Kwik Trip

May 24th, 2016

I was pumping gas into the Honda at Kwik Trip this morning, after I dropped Karin off at our church. I was watching the dollar amount grow on the readout, when I heard a voice say, “Excuse me, Sir, could you help me with some gas money? I need to go to Ohio.”


I turned around, and there was a slight, young woman standing there, with blondish hair and a brown jacket. She looked malnourished, and she had lines in her face that had no business being there yet. Her voice was raspy. She didn’t have a lot of years, but she looked like she had a lot of miles.


I told her, “Wait until I get finished here.” She went back to her very used car that was parked at the pump beside mine.


I finished fueling the Fit and I walked over to her car. I saw a boy sitting in a child seat in the back. He had curly, black hair and dark skin. The woman was speaking with him, saying something to comfort him.


I asked the woman, “How much gas do you need?”


She replied, “Well, I’m going to Ohio…”


I cut her off. “Just open the tank for me.”


She took off the gas cap, and then moved away as I started pumping. I asked, “How old is your kid?”


She said, “He’s five.”


I nodded. I kept filling the car, and then I stopped when I hit $25.


“Okay, close it up.”


The woman came up to me and asked, “You wouldn’t by any chance be a smoker, would you?”


I shook my head.


She smiled weakly, and said, “Oh well. Thank you,” and she got into her car.


I went back to the Fit. I had a lot of questions churning in my mind. Was she lying to me? My immediate response to myself was: “Who fucking cares?” Anybody who comes up to a guy as grumpy as me and asks for help is obviously desperate. If she is telling the truth, then one tank of gas isn’t going to be enough to solve her problems. If she is lying, then she is doing far more damage to her soul than is she is to my wallet. For me, a tank of gas means very little. For her, it might mean everything. I don’t know.


Did she deserve the help? Once again, “Who fucking cares?” Does anybody really deserve a break? Does anybody not deserve one? I don’t know.


I never asked her any other questions. For one thing, it’s not my business to know her business. Second, if she was lying, then asking her more questions is just encouraging her to lie some more. It’s not a good idea to lead people into sin.


I didn’t even ask her name. Is there any point in asking an angel her name?