Tag Archives: Brevard College

A Political Turnaround by David Drum, Part 1 of 2

4 Dec

David Drum 007

 

 

David Drum is the author of eight nonfiction books in the health area, as well as one book of poetry and many magazine and newspaper articles. He is also the author of the satirical novel, Introducing the Richest Family in America.

 

Part 1 of 2

Like many other young men of my generation, my politics turned completely around in the Sixties.

I was born at the tail end of World War II into a fairly conservative family. My father was a test pilot during the war. When I was in elementary school, America was fighting Communism in Korea. I grew up ducking under my desk in elementary school to prepare for an atomic bomb attack and watching Joe McCarthy on TV. Later, I attended high school in conservative San Diego.

After I flunked my entire junior year and half-heartedly repeated it, I was expelled from high school at the beginning of my senior year. After working briefly as a gardener, I was kicked out of the house and sent to live with my paternal grandparents in Conover, North Carolina.

My North Carolina relatives were southern Republicans, more progressive on race issues than the segregationist Democrats of that day. My grandfather, D.S. Drum, was a strong family man who owned a well-known funeral home. A respected local businessman, he had never borrowed a dime from a bank. My grandfather walked me into Newton-Conover High School, announced that I was his grandson, and got me re-admitted to school.

Like every other 18-year-old man in the United States, I was required to go to the post office and register with the Selective Service. I was mailed a draft card in the summer of 1963. With President John Kennedy in the White House, the first young men my age were being drafted for our undeclared war in Vietnam. Some guys I knew from high school volunteered for the Marine Corps or Green Berets, while I was struggling to finish high school.

My southern grandfather kept me busy. He took me to church every week, and I worked at his funeral home and at the ambulance business after school and on weekends. And finally, after five years and summer school, I graduated from high school.

With the help of my family and a Methodist minister who was a family friend, I was admitted on probation to a small junior college in the Pisgah Mountains, south of Asheville.

I surprised everyone by doing well. Brevard College was a small, private, two-year liberal arts college affiliated with the Methodist Church. About seven hundred students lived on campus. As a college student, I received a student deferment, meaning I couldn’t be drafted while I was in school. I knew there was some kind of war in Vietnam, but I didn’t understand it. Like most of my friends, I presumed we were the good guys, fighting for truth, justice, and the American way.

President Kennedy was assassinated my freshman year. I still remember sitting around that little black and white television set in the dormitory lounge, watching the horrible events unfold.

My college girlfriend, Isabel Dixon, nominated me for class president my freshman year. I had never considered the possibility I could be president of anything, but later that year I decided to run for student body president. I won my first election as an outsider candidate, but the administration invalidated my victory. When the school nominated someone else to oppose me, I ran a second time and beat him too. My only memorable campaign stunt was to be carried into the school cafeteria in a coffin, borne on the shoulders of several students in suits, and to leap out of the coffin in the middle of the cafeteria proclaiming, “I’m not dead yet!”

It was still America, the land of opportunity. While the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were taking the country by storm, I began thinking of myself as a conservative. Another student gave me a copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, which swept me away. As exemplified by the architect-hero Howard Roark, the book argues that superior individuals with will power create things their own way. Selfishness is a virtue, according to Rand. At this point in time, Rand’s “objectivist” philosophy seemed the right way to live. My political reading in those days was far to the right of the political spectrum — Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative, Robert Welch’s The Politician, John Stormer’s None Dare Call It Treason, and books of that ilk.

In 1964, the year I was president of the student body, I supported Barry Goldwater for President. The Republican senator from Arizona was an outspoken conservative and a colonel in the Air Force Reserve. Although I wasn’t yet 21 and couldn’t vote, Goldwater’s honesty appealed to me. I saw him as a political straight-shooter, like John Wayne. I did not think the same of Lyndon Johnson, who took over as president when Kennedy died. Goldwater boldly called for escalating the war in Vietnam, while Johnson painted him as a reckless warmonger.

The Goldwater campaign opened a small headquarters in Brevard, and I did a little righteous footwork for his losing campaign. I hadn’t considered volunteering for military service, since I was still in school, but as much as I’d thought about it, the Vietnam War seemed like a righteous venture at that time.

I graduated from Brevard in 1965 and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in political science and planning to become a lawyer, and after that perhaps, a politician. I was married by now, but I wasn’t getting along with my first wife. She was pregnant; we lived together in married student housing for a short time. I remember the ferment on the historic old Chapel Hill campus, the impromptu gatherings and speeches as students hotly debated the war in front of old, ivy-covered buildings. I remember stopping to listen to speeches, sometimes in the rain or snow.

A turning point in my political thinking came in February of 1966. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings held public hearings on Vietnam. Chaired by Arkansas Senator William Fulbright*, the hearings were nationally televised, and I watched them with interest. By this time, my wife had gone back to her mother and taken our infant daughter with her. This left me alone watching the hearings in an empty apartment that I would soon vacate.

Testifying were a great many historians, retired generals, and other experts including George Kennan, who developed the containment strategy that set the strategy for the Cold War. Kennan was among others who recommended withdrawing from Vietnam as soon as feasible.

I do remember being surprised to learn that the people of South Vietnam would have overwhelmingly voted for the Communist leader Ho Chi Minh if the United States had given them a chance to vote. But instead of allowing the vote, the United States created South Vietnam as a separate country, set up a puppet government, and made two countries out of what had been one.

I moved into a rooming house in Chapel Hill. My life was changing. Two writing instructors had encouraged me to think about becoming a writer, and I was leaning in that direction. One of my short stories and a poem had been published in a Chapel Hill literary magazine.

At the end of the 1966 school year, I picked up my portable typewriter and boarded a Greyhound to New Orleans. I had seen The Glass Menagerie several times at Brevard, and I was fascinated by the sad lyric of Tennessee Williams’ play, set in New Orleans. That summer in that crumbling southern city, the oldest and most interesting city in which I have ever lived, I supported myself as a street vendor — selling ice cream, tamales, and hot dogs from a push cart on the streets of the French Quarter and living in a tiny room at the Lee Circle YMCA.

I spent hours pounding the typewriter in my small room. One day a guy told me about the writing program at the University of Iowa. He mentioned an article in Collier’s magazine, which I looked up in the New Orleans Public Library. Iowa’s graduate writing program was famous; it sounded good. On a whim, at the end of the summer I hitchhiked up through Mississippi and Arkansas to Iowa City. Most of the way I travelled with a jumpy bearded guy from Detroit I met at the YMCA who seemed to believe that every person in the deep south was secretly a Klansman who would probably kill us.

When I arrived in Iowa City, the small building that housed the Writers Workshop was closed. But it was a lovely old campus, with a river running through it, and beautiful trees and hills. I slept that night in a laundry room under a campus dormitory. The next day I hitchhiked across the country to see my family in San Diego, the second time I had hitched across the United States. I didn’t own a car while I was an undergraduate, so I did a lot of hitching during those years.

I attended the University of California at Riverside my senior year. I changed my major from political science to English. I worked two jobs to pay my way through school. Since I lived off-campus, I wasn’t too involved in campus life. But I did write a couple of articles for the school newspaper, my first attempts at journalism, and my poetry was published in a small campus literary magazine before I graduated in 1967.

I sent off an application to the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop. That summer I headed for Las Vegas to divorce my first wife. I had become involved with another woman at Riverside, and she wanted to marry me, too.

I worked at the El Cortez Hotel Casino on Fremont Street, dealing craps on the night shift. Although I had nightmares about numbers, it was fun to watch the dice, observe the night life, and to earn cash tips. I remember feeling exhilarated when I emerged from that dimly-lit, smoke-filled casino into the bright early morning sunlight with cash in my pocket. My Las Vegas divorce came through at the end of the summer. Five days later, always the optimist, I married again.

To be continued.

*Editor’s Note. J. William Fulbright was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who in February 1966 initiated a widely watched and televised series of “educational” hearings. Witnesses included retired generals and foreign policy analyst George Kennan. Kennan recommended that the United States withdraw “as soon as this could be done without inordinate damage to our prestige or stability in the area” to avoid risking war with China. His testimony provoked President Johnson to order FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to investigate whether Fulbright was “either a communist agent or a dupe of the communists.”
The hearings resulted in a significant shift in public opinion. The president’s ratings on his conduct of the war dropped from 63 percent to 49 percent. It was now considered respectable to question the war.

 

 

 

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