The Truth, Mainly - 10/24/2005

Garden tomatoes the remedy?
by Leon Satterfield

You know what these sometimes United States really need? We need more fresh-picked, home-grown, dead-ripe tomatoes. And before we ever go to war again, we need to hand deliver some of them to our perceived foe.

That said, a question: Is it just me or is this the winter of our discontent? How long's it been since we generated such cranky animosity toward one another?

I'm old enough to remember the ugly internecine war that grew out of Sen. Joe McCarthy's insistence that there were real commies hiding behind all the bushes. But that animosity seems pale in light of the anger swirling about the war in Iraq—which Secretary of State Rice told us last week might still be going on in 10 years, and that we may have to use force in Syria and Iran as well.

Make your blood boil?

But the real vitriol seems to be directed at those who find fault with the President's conduct of the war—especially the treatment of prisoners.

In a piece by Nat Hentoff in the Oct. 14 issue of The Village Voice, he quotes a letter written last month by U.S. Army Captain Ian Fishback to Sen. John McCain (R. Ariz.).

"For 17 months," Capt. Fishback wrote, "…I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder…and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq."

He's letting himself in for it.

Hentoff goes on to quote an Oct. 1 Wall Street Journal editorial on the subject: "The suggestion… [of] some kind of whitewash [of POW abuse] only reveals the…accusers for the crackpots they are."

Capt. Fishback wrote to Sen. McCain because earlier this month McCain got 90 senators—46 Republicans, 43 Democrats, and one Independent—to approve his amendment to the Senate's Defense Appropriations bill. The amendment would prohibit "cruel, inhumane, or degrading" punishment to any POWs the U.S. has in custody.

But the House version of the bill says nothing about POW treatment.

Sen. McCain is sensitive about torture because he was a POW in North Vietnam for five and a half years. He says U.S. prisoners "were subjected to very cruel, very inhumane and degrading treatment, a few even unto death. But every one of us—every single one of us—knew and took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies."

His implication is that such differences may no longer exist, that those horrendous photos from Abu Ghraib show Americans as the torturers rather than the tortured.

According to Hentoff, GOP leaders in the House oppose the McCain amendment, and the White House has indicated the President will veto the bill if the amendment is included in it.

So it sounds like lots of animosity, lots of anger, between the Senate, the House, and the Presidency—and they're all controlled by the GOP.

We've become a nation that can't disagree without getting angry and it's really ticking me off.

And that's where the fresh-picked, home-grown, dead-ripe tomatoes come in.

I haven't grown any myself for the last five years because no garden space came with the duplex we moved into. So I've letched after such tomatoes—impossible to find in a grocery store—for a long time now.

Then I find some. I'm walking down the sidewalk in our neighborhood and I see a guy messing about in a garden. There are huge tomato plants with red tomatoes hanging all over them.

"Not interested in selling any of those tomatoes, are you?" I ask the guy.

"Not interested in selling," he says, "but come on in and pick some."

He gives me a grocery-store plastic bag that has never contained anything like what I'm about to put in it.

"Are you sure?" I say. "Tomatoes cost a lot at the store."

"Pick what you'll eat," he says.

So I do. My wife and I eat them over the next four days, so a week later I walk by the neighbor's garden again. He's in the midst of it.

"Still got tomatoes?" I say.

He gives me another grocery-store plastic bag. I pick tomatoes.

"Aren't you the guy that writes a column for the paper?" he says.

"I guess so," I cautiously admit.

"Every once in a while," he says, "I agree with you. But most of the time I listen to Rush Limbaugh."

I grin a sickly sort of grin. He grins back.

"Come back," he says, "when you need more."

It could be the beginning of the end of the country's not-very-civil war.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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