Saturday, March 10, 2012


We left Detroit airport this morning at 7:30 am, actually called McNamara airport, possible for the former Kennedy and Johnson Defense minister and World Bank president, also a former Ford Executive who worked in Detroit and lived in the plush suburbs of Ann Arbor, a fact I read long ago, likely from David Halberstam’s excellent book ‘The Best and the Brightest’. I remember the names of the roads and highway exits from these books read long ago, the mind connecting the significance of Ann Arbor, a distant suburb that McNamara preferred to live in, away from the usual wealthy neighborhoods of auto executives near Detroit, preferring instead a home close to a university, which is the true home of this intense data driven genius, the author of the Vietnam body counts, hoping that being empirical will insure victory against Communist guerrillas, instead admitting defeat especially after witnessing an anti-war protector burn himself in front of his office at the Pentagon; one of many anti-Vietnam protest that roiled the country;  like that depicted in Norman Mailer’s ‘Armies of the Night.’ Many years later, McNamara would gain some grace and forgiveness by admitting the government was wrong in Vietnam, an attempt to persuade the George W Bush administration to avoid war in Iraq but to no avail; the plea from the wise man proving to be fruitless to the neo-conservatives.

One would think the airport was named in honor of his last act of humility, an ironic deed from one of the proudest and smartest man alive, admitting the limits of human knowledge and logic; instead of paying tribute to his work in the government and private sector; although laying homage to having lived and worked in the auto industry in Detroit long before being engulfed in foreign wars. Detroit is also called ‘motor city’, named at a time when the big three ruled the world, the biggest companies on earth, now humbled by Japanese and Korean car makers; with some auto companies foreign owned, by German, Italian and even Indian firms. Perhaps the decline and humbling of the great car makers is reminiscent of McNamara’s journey, from a belief in American supremacy and drive, but eventually defeated in the jungles of Asia, or by the more efficient corporations of East Asia. Detroit is now foreign owned, the deserted neighborhood becoming home to Middle Eastern immigrants, refuges from the interventionist wars in the deserts and plains, motels filled with German executives, talking in their distinct language amidst the center of America. A joke heard: a group of German executives enjoyed themselves in a comedy show, visiting the stand-up comedian after the performance, commenting that there are no excellent comedians in Germany anymore, and the American comic remarking,’ Because you killed them all,’; perhaps referring to the Holocaust in World War II.

The people in the warehouse are warm people, behaving like a caring family, unlike the other warehouses, one feels certain homeliness; these are good people one feels, descendant of long ago German immigrants. Indeed, the surrounding middle class neighborhoods have a certain warmth and community, despite the harsh winters, despite the sleazy places of adult entertainment; the hills and forests of Michigan and Ohio still have streams for fishing and places to hunt, recalling the sporting life of Hemingway, vacationing in the Michigan wilderness to recover from war.  I never had a chance to see Detroit or Toledo city, instead relying on memory of book scenes or research in Wikipedia, my colleague preferring to go to the motel after work, unwilling to venture out and explore, perhaps someone who has seen it all or someone tired and lazy. The saving grace is the excellent dinner, for instance last night was at the Blue Oceans Bar and Grill, where I ordered oysters of different varieties, and an excellent medallion steak, with shrimp and crap toppings, asparagus and baked potato, salad with anchovies and blue cheese and Samuel Adams beer. I went back to the inn with my teeth feeling raw, flossed and gargled with hot water and salt, biking at the gym for 45 minutes while watching ‘Battlestar Galactica’, packing and going to bed at 12 midnight to catch some sleep for the early morning flight home.

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