Tag Archives: draft

“Volunteers of America*: Organizing for McGovern,” by Karl Kasca

29 Sep

karl-todayKarl Kasca is a former web entrepreneur who also taught Social Media and New Media Marketing at UCLA Extension. He was a popular speaker in the U.S. and internationally on ‘The Power of Social Media’ and ‘How to Know Anything at Anytime’.

Previously he had an information research business focusing on market research, competitive intelligence, due diligence, and information for businesses and attorneys to make decisions and act on. Prior to this he was an internal auditor and fraud examiner for a Fortune 500 company. Also he taught algebra, pre-algebra, and basic math. Karl is currently retired and living happily—and peacefully—in Pasadena, California.

 

I was in Napa High School in 1971-72 when I volunteered for George McGovern’s campaign for presidency against Nixon. Even back in junior high school, we students were aware of student protests, the Civil Rights Movement, the Free Speech Movement, and other unrest. I and many other students were peace-loving, against the Vietnam War, and also of draft age. Therefore, McGovern appealed to us.

If you look at it from today’s perspective, you might call us “self-serving,” campaigning for McGovern only because we wanted to avoid the draft. However, there was so much more to it than that. We supported the troops but passionately hated the war. We were also influenced by “make love, not war,” the San Francisco State College (now University) student strike, and college president S.I. Hiyakawa1, who tried so hard to squash it.

We had just gotten the 18-year-old vote, so this was to be our first election. We went door to door campaigning for McGovernkarl-kasca-asb-officers_napa-high-school_napanee-yearbook_1972. I had a junior high school teacher who had campaigned for JFK. He told a story of going door to door and talking to a lady who asked for a photo of the presidential candidate to put in a picture frame on her mantel. “Yes,” she said, studying the photo, “that looks like a president. I’ll vote for him.” Unfortunately, I didn’t have any memorable canvassing experiences like that, but I wish I had.

Napa was fairly rural and simple, like a sleepy little Italian town, with fragrance of night air and sky full of stars. There was little pollution except in winter when used tires were burned in the smudge pots, causing an ugly brown layer of smog above the lovely green hills, making us aware of the environment. The wine-tasting craze hadn’t hit yet, but after it did around the mid-1970’s, the valley became much more shi-shi and upscale.

In fact, before the wine craze, Napa was probably more well known for Napa State Hospital, which was thought of as a mental institution. I volunteered there by playing my accordion in the drug rehabilitation unit. After finishing playing for a long time, one young woman came up to me and said, “Wow, Man, what a far-out guitar!”

We went to McGovern rallies and to a wine-tasting event in a Yountville winery (north of Napa), where we met his daughter, who was a featured speaker. We were joyful and ebullient about McGovern. His main plank was anti-war.

The first Earth Day happened around then, too. The environment concerned us. We were into ecology and the Green movement; we volunteered at the recycling center. We believed in the slogan: “Think globally, act locally.”

We read the book The Soft Revolution: A Student Handbook for Turning Schools Around (1971) by Neil Postman,2 and the teacher version called, Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1969). We felt empowered by the influential ideas in these books. We even asked some of our “coolest” teachers to read and implement the suggestions in the teacher’s book.

The senior class before us wanted to make things better for the students at our high school. They came up with a platform—sort of the ‘70s version of what Bernie Sanders stands for (ecological and specific to U.S. life). For example, we called for a free zone on our high school campus for smokers where they could smoke cigarettes without being suspended. This seems counter-intuitive now, given what we know the dangers of smoking, but at that time it was something that a certain percentage of the student body wanted.

When these seniors graduated, they passed the torch to us to implement their platform. Like The Torch Is Passed about JFK’s death, and passing a legacy of goals, but leaving the heavy lifting to us. Using this platform, one of my female classmates and I launched “The Party” and began the process of working for change.

Students were divided into a number of groups, such as: The Cliques, The Hards (think of Fonzie in Happy Days), the Welders, etc. Our group, The Party, was probably more nerd-like than anything else. I ran for president of the student body on The Party ticket and lost.

There was a walkway across campus that we called Route 66, which passed by a giant billboard-sized wall in the middle of our school of 3,300 students. The billboard was meant for student graffiti. Anyone could post anything. The administration hated it. The re-painting of the wall incurred more expense for them. They asked the custodians to paint over the graffiti every day. Then the students would spray/paint graffiti again. On and on. The administration blamed us since we were instrumental in having it built in the first place. But we thought that student expression was paramount and that the re-painting was a small price to pay for exercising one’s first amendment rights to free speech.

We started a movement for a counter-graduation. We thought of a way to cancel the traditional graduation ceremony: wekarl-kasca_capfull-gown_napa_1972 would tip off the fire department about how flammable the light plastic graduation gowns were. The fire department came and burned a graduation gown and determined that it was indeed flammable but no more so than the inner lining of a man’s suit coat, and therefore, not dangerous. So while our prank worked to some extent, it wasn’t enough to thwart the traditional graduation ceremony. If the alternative graduation had come off, it would have shunned tradition yet honored the students in non-traditional ways. In any case, it fizzled and we graduated—traditionally. We were admitted karl-kasca_capgown_napa_1972to college, so everything ended up OK in our eyes.

 

 

 

We read Mao’s The Little Red Book and Marx/Engels’ The Communist Manifesto. I remember my dad seeing those books and saying, “You can read that stuff but don’t leave it lying around where people can see it.”

We read and read and read…anything we could get our hands on. The more diverse or different the better. Like Confessions of an English Opium-Eater just because it sounded so weird. And Candide by Voltaire because it was French and philosophical-ish. From Dr. Pangloss in Candide we learned that “this is the best of all possible worlds,” and that was really saying something considering that he’d lost an eye and an ear to syphilis. Given that, we knew we lived in an amazing world too…but one which could be improved.

Our high school was mostly white. Nothing much ever happened there outside the typical high school activities, certainly nothing even remotely bordering on radical. It seemed very Happy Days-esque at that time. We complained about our town’s (Napa’s) complacency, being stuck in the status quo, and called the apathetic condition ‘Napathy.’

Many of the secondary students in our town were part of Napa’s “Model United Nations” (MUN) on campus. I’m not sure who founded the MUN in Napa, but every secondary school had an advisor and many students whkarl-kasca-mun-officers_napa-high-school_napanee-yearbook_1972o actively participated in it. I was President of the General Assembly in my Senior year. We had 300 delegates from high school and junior high school, representing various countries. Students wore “their” country’s national dress and tried to pass resolutions. We were hopeful that through a legislative process and through people working together that meaningful change could be effected. This was pre-“globalism.” We thought conflict could be solved through peaceful means. Of course, the John Birch Society was still in existence then. They called the United Nations a Communist organization. But nevertheless, we saw the possibility of a peaceful future for “mankind.”

After volunteering on McGovern’s campaign, I was deeply saddened when I got to U.C. Berkeley and discoveredkarl-kasca_uc-berkeley-sather-gate_san-francisco-chronicle_10-11-1973 Nixon posters everywhere in my dorm complex. This was the first year after the last year of tear gas at Berkeley at the end of the free speech movement (FSM). Apparently there were a lot of Berkeley students from Southern California, where Nixon was favored. Also I was living in the engineering/science dorm, and these students must have been more conservative than those in the liberal arts dorms. But this experience taught me something—things aren’t always what they seem initially (or on the surface), and nothing can be taken for granted—even in an allegedly “liberal” campus like Berkeley!

I voted in my first election with great pride and am still proud of that vote. We all believed that this love of brothers and sisters would spread around the world.

I couldn’t believe it when Nixon won by a huge number of votes. I had tried to convince my dad, whom my high school friends all secretly nicknamed “Arch” after Archie Bunker of All in the Family, to vote for McGovern, and we argued daily about it. I had no success with him. However, after the election was over he admitted to me that he’d voted for McGovern. I was shocked. Apparently he’d been leaning for McGovern the entire time; he’d just wanted me to learn how to justify and argue for my positions. Ironically, I had to wait until after the election to find out that I had been able to convince at least one person to vote for my candidate. Luckily this wasn’t as difficult when volunteering for Bernie, as several people I talked to told me that they’d vote for him. So I guess my Dad’s apparent stubbornness (orneriness?) had worked and I learned something after all.

The draft lottery was now in place. Vietnam seemed like certain death to me. There were body counts in the nightly news and much commentary about the war. We prayed for high lottery numbers. I heard that if drafted I’d go to the front since I was colorblind, and it was thought that colorblind people could see through camouflage. And actually there might be something to this: Do coulor-blind people see through certain kinds of camouflage? Also I was an Eagle Scout and rumor had it that they were more likely to be tapped as officers. This would have been bad news since more U.S. officers than enlisted men were killed in Vietnam.

Since I didn’t want to be in front of a platoon on land, I decided to apply for the Navy since they were probably ‘safer’ at sea. I thought I could beat the test, but I failed because of my colorblindness. I got a letter to that effect, and it said, “But don’t worry, you can join the Marines.” But that was even more certain death to me, since they go first into situations, and I thought I’d be in front. Years later my dad told me he would have sent me to Canada if I’d been drafted. As it ended up, my Dad was always for me and my interests, I just never knew it at the time while everything was going on. When I was an older adult, I was asked to teach at UCLA Extension. My dad asked me, “Can you do that?” And my answer was, “Yes, I can do that!” But again, I think he was challenging me to give it my best and do a good job, which I did. And I’m sure that he supported my teaching and professional speaking, but unfortunately he died before he could let me know that one last time.

In later years I turned my search towards inner peace through meditation. This seemed like a way to help others as well as myself—and perhaps generate more “outer” peace in our country and in the world too. After all, if the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas (a la “The Butterfly Effect”), then perhaps inner peace can influence outer peace the same way. Yeah, it could happen!

And so it went until Bernie Sanders ran for President, and then I felt that political action was also imperative to assure that we’d have a candidate with a success plan for America.

 

* Volunteers by Jefferson Airplane. This iconic group and their song Volunteers gives the flavor of the era and is definitely worth a listen and a look at the powerful images from that time.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SboRijhWFDU

  1. “S. I. Hayakawa became president of San Francisco State College (now called San Francisco State University) during the turbulent period of 1968 to 1973, while Ronald Reagan was governor of California and Joseph Alioto was mayor of San Francisco. In 1968–69, there was a bitter student and Black Panthers strike at San Francisco State University in order to establish an ethnic studies program. It was a major news event at the time and chapter in the radical history of the United States and the Bay Area. The strike was led by the Third World Liberation Front supported by Students for a Democratic Society, the Black Panthers and the countercultural community.

“It proposed fifteen “non-negotiable demands”, including a Black Studies department chaired by sociologist Nathan Hare independent of the university administration and open admission to all black students to “put an end to racism”, and the unconditional, immediate end to the War in Vietnam and the university’s involvement. It was threatened that if these demands were not immediately and completely satisfied the entire campus was to be forcibly shut down.[3] Hayakawa became popular with conservative voters in this period after he pulled the wires out from the loud speakers on a protesters’ van at an outdoor rally.[4][5][6] Hayakawa relented on December 6, 1968, and created the first-in-the-nation College of Ethnic Studies.”  (Wikipedia, “S. I. Hayakawa,”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._I._Hayakawa#Student_strike_at_San_Francisco_State_University)

 

  1. “This is a postgraduate primer for their 1969 Teaching as a Subversive Activity — a book of alternatives to help promote a revolution without violence since “”violence changes the subject”” and is counterproductive. The alternatives consist of “”advice, maxims, homilies, metaphors, models, case studies, rules, commentaries, jokes, sayings and a variety of other things”” such as a certain amount of flak. All of it is designed to help students (school or college) achieve a non-coercive, non-regulated kind of education and the college is at one point equated with the public library where you can go to find out what you want to know. The authors are iconoclasts, albeit peaceful ones, and there are many kinds of recommendations (often taken from what has been done all over the country) on how to achieve a more fluid system.” (Kirkus Reviews, https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/neil-charles-weingartner-postman-2/the-soft-revolution/)

Mas Un Mitote, Part 2 of 2, by Miguel Roura

8 May

MIGUEL ROURA is a writer/Actor/Producer/Activist and a retired LAUSD English Miguel's JC HeadshotLanguage instructor from Boyle Heights.  Since his earliest days during the Chicano movement as a community organizer and educator to his current involvement with CASA 0101 Theatre, Miguel’s life-work has been to contribute to the betterment of his community.  He’s performed shows such as:  Naked Stage Nights, Awkward, Remember La Causa?, Frida Kahlo Ten Minute Festival (No Me Queda Otra), La Bestia Band Theatre Project, Shakespeare Sonnets Night, and the Fall 2014 production of Julius Caesar. The following is the last part of his blog post. He tells me that Mitote means “indigenous dance of Mexico” but also that he is playing with the similarity to Mito (myth).

PART 2

In Culiacan we had two hours to stretch our legs. The bus driver told us not to wander too far from the station; anyone not on the bus by midnight would be left behind to find other means of transportation.

My clothes clung to my body, wrinkled and wet with perspiration. The heat from the asphalt and cement singed my sandals. Four of us, including Mangas, wandered down the boulevard and found a place that served ice-cold beers and had outdoor tables. My compadre Humberto told me before I left LA: They grow some of the best marijuana on the outskirt farms of Culiacan. Eyeing a row of taxi cabs across the street from the bar, I spotted a young guy about my age, looking bored, leaning against his vehicle, smoking. I sauntered over and introduced myself, told him I was a tourist looking to score some “mota.”  The cabbie, with the cigarette dangling from his lips, right eye squinting, inspected me head to toe: long hair, beaded necklace, paisley shirt, bell-bottom jeans, and three-ply huaraches.

“Quizas (Maybe),” he responded nonchalantly.

Cuanto (How much)?” I asked. The fare would be twenty dollars, he said, but the price of the weed, la yerba, I would need to negotiate with the farmer. I ran back and told the guys, asked if anyone wanted to chip in, but they all passed, warned me it wasn’t a good idea to go into a strange city.

“lf I score, are you going to want to smoke some?”

“Hell, yes!”

I handed the driver the twenty and he smiled. His name was Nico and he was saving to go to the United States; Hollywood was the place he wanted to visit—he was a movie fan. I sat in the back seat as Nico maneuvered around traffic. We rode silently beyond the city lights and out into the dark. Flickering like altar candles, distant fires illuminated the obscure surroundings. Somewhere down the highway Nico turned the cab onto a rutted road and it bounced and waded through tall grass and cornfields. After a long rough ride through back roads that only he could distinguish, Nico stopped the car, got out, and left without a word.

As I sat alone waiting, the cow and pig shit mixed with the stench of my apprehension. It wasn’t the fear of being busted. This was the land of Don Juan, the same desert where the Yaqui shaman instructed Carlos Castaneda in his spiritual way of life. I began to imagine the wraiths and specters that have haunted this land and its people for thousands of years. I’d met Carlos when he came to speak at a MECHA meeting shortly after publishing his first book. Afterwards, a few of us invited him to smoke a joint with us in the parking lot, but he deferred. He explained that Don Juan introduced him to peyote and other psychotropic plants to help him achieve awareness to an alternate state which his very strict Western training prevented him from experiencing. Marijuana was a devil’s weed, he said, that clouds and confuses the thinking. In order to achieve awareness, he needed a clear vision that would help him cross over the spiritual dimension where he encountered his nagual, his spiritual guide. Afterwards we laughed and thought him a square suit-and-tie man.

Suddenly a fog rolled in and enveloped the car. My thoughts dissipated in the mist and made me feel lost. I waited for Nico to return. The night noises grew, augmenting with my breath and heartbeat. Tittering to myself, I suppressed the prayer I knew could save me, but I didn’t want to sell out my recently acquired agnosticism.

I’ve read that between heartbeats, a person can dream his entire life. I thought about mine. I came to Mexico to penetrate her mysteries, to uncover her secrets, to saturate myself in her splendor. Growing up in Tijuana, I barely fondled them. I wanted to be deep inside, experiencing unsounded sensations. Here I sat, along the back roads of my mind, alone. My thoughts wandered. Now a panic ran through me. Raw fear pounded through my imagination.

In the midst of this reverie, two heads popped through the back windows of the cab. Nico smiled, smoke dangling around his face. He nodded to the other side, The stern face of a farmer stared at me.

“This is Eusebio and this is his farm,” Nico said in the spitfire Spanish of Sinaloa.

The man’s thick swarthy fingers clutched a big brown shopping bag which he handed to me. Opening it, I saw half of it filled with thick green buds that wafted the distinctive smell of freshly harvested marijuana.

“That will be another twenty dollars, Güero.”

The big ranchero fixed his eyes, waiting for my response. I dug in my pocket for my wallet, pulled out the bill, and extended it out to Eusebio. He smiled with pride as he withdrew and disappeared into the dew.

“Nice doing business with you, gringo.“

By the time I got back to the depot, it was well past midnight. Mangas stood on the first step of the bus entrance staring down at the two drivers, who were angrily shouting Mexican insults at him. Each bus had two conductors who took turns driving. Mangas knew only one phrase of this language, and the men’s demeanors didn’t faze him. He’d faced Army sergeants and the Viet Cong.

“Where you been, ese? These vatos are getting ready to leave your ass. I think he said he’s gonna call the jura on me. That better be some good shit you got there.”

It was. Right after I took my seat, I handed Mangas my July issue of Playboy; he opened it to the centerfold, and I dropped a wad of weed on it. Mangas expertly removed the rich round buds from the stems which he collected on his into a neat pile. Soon, perfectly round marijuana cigarettes emerged. I fired up the first and we started passing out the product of years of experience.

“Pinches gavachos grjfos!” scowled the older bus driver as he glanced back at the scene developing behind them. “Estan armando un mitote.”

The mood livened throughout the bus. We did start creating a ruckus. Someone pulled out his boom-box and the steely sounds of Santana started; then the percussion section chimed in, and soon it became the backbeat in our travels. The conversation grew loud. We no longer spoke in pairs or groups, but like we did at our MECHA meetings, with passion and conviction. The Vietnam War preoccupied us all. Even though we got deferments for being in school, the draft lottery loomed ominously in our lives. The only one not worried about it was Mangas. He had survived a year in “the bush.” But now he faced jail time for the Walkouts.

“Me vale madre (I don’t give a damn)!” was his favorite phrase. He didn’t give a shit.

At that moment none of us gave a damn either. We were high on the infinite possibilities for ourselves and for La Causa, committed to changing the world, eradicating injustice and inequality. It was our time.

The bus driver had refilled the ice-chest with beer. They must have felt the contact-high effects of the smoke, because they started talking and laughing with gusto and passing out the cold cans of Tecate.

We bragged how we would become the Generation of Chingones (bad asses) that would turn it all around, revolutionize the system. We’d become the architects and engineers of a new society, the teacher and administrators who would implement the theories of Paulo Freire. The lawyers and judges who would
argue before the Supreme Court defending the constitutional rights of Reies Lopez Tijerina, Cesar Chavez, and Corky Gonzales. We boasted and openly claimed what those before us dared not proclaim: a big piece of the American pie. The world was our oyster, and we were starved.

Daylight broke and we passed through one of the many small towns along our way, and I asked the drivers to find us a Mercado where we could stop and eat. We had the munchies.

(END)

Seminal Events of the 60s Revisited–New York Style, by Steve Fine.

15 Mar

Steve-Fine_Me_and_Junior

Originally from New York, Steve Fine has been living in Los Angeles since the mid-seventies with his wife, Jocelyne.  They have a son, Matthew, and now two backyard cats. He became active here in L.A. in the vigil movement, which sprang up in opposition to the Iraq War. For years he “vigiled” weekly in Silverlake and then in Studio City. Currently he has a book in progress.  Photography is his other passion.

 

Photographs from the Spring of ’67, and
A Walk Through the Wall Street Demolition Zone, circa ’69.

The five series of vintage photos you will find displayed at my site are resurrected from the deep archives, the years 1967 and 1969. Somehow the original negatives survived all these years. One sample is here for each of the five series you can view at:

steveposts.wordpress.com

pudkwwhApril ’67 Mobilization Against the War in Vietnam

The four galleries in the “Spring ‘67” series reflect the spirit of the times and the activism in the streets just as the antiwar movement was shifting into high gear and the counter-culture aborning.  I was eighteen and living with my mom at her West Side apartment right off Central Park in the high 90s, so it was literally a walk in the park to cover the antiwar march, draft card burning, and ‘be-ins’.  The ‘sweep-in’ was a subway ride down to the Village; I brought my camera along with a broom and bucket.

Steve-Fine_Sweep-In67_firehydrantSpring ’67 Sweep-In on the Lower East Side

My approach is to tell the story of the event rather than just select a few of the very best photos to highlight, so overall there is an unedited street-photography feel, a mix of my favorites with markers to guide you along the way.

By the expressions of some of the people in the photos you can see that for them this journey is entirely new and surprising, not the historical clichés of today.  Enter and you will be moving through a time of possibility, defiance and hope with enormous creative potential. It was all suddenly and unexpectedly happening that spring. For example, the look on the face of the sandy-haired, sport-jacketed draft resister as he burns his card. The year before, or even a few months before, he would not have been emboldened to take this step.

Steve-Fine_Draft67_resister1April ’67 Draft Resistance

 On a lighter note, there are the faces of the gawkers at the first “Be-In,” the opening shots in the series where the trees are bare in the background and the people are wearing jackets.  They are trying to fathom what exactly this is that is happening here.

Steve-Fine_Be-In67_peaceflag Spring ’67, Central Park Be-In 

The joke is, most of the people grooving in front of them on the cold cold ground were not certain either.  “Hippie”, “flower power”, “psychedelic” and even the phrase “counter-culture” have yet to enter common usage. That would come a few months when Time and Newsweek put out their big “summer of love” issues to explain it all and sell merchandise.  As a matter of fact, although I went to the park with my friends and we acted as if we knew, obviously, since we were eighteen and very cool, the truth is I had absolutely no idea what was happening. But like Ringo, I knew it was mine.  

Steve-Fine_WallStreet69_WTC-1

 

Moving on. Circa ’69, the Wall Street area of lower Manhattan was in the midst of a major period of demolition to make way for the World Trade Center and other new buildings. One Sunday morning I went down with my camera because I’d heard that on the weekends the place was deserted, like a ghost town. I was not expecting to find entire blocks razed and more slated for the same fate.

 

Another Bozo on the Bus, by R.F. Part 2 of 4

4 Jan

R.F. lives in L.A. with a deaf, but talkative, elderly female cat. He is retired, meditates daily, practices tai chi and yoga, and loves his friends (including Kitty Kroger).

Part 2 of 4

LSD

One day a friend invited me to his house near the beach. He wasn’t home and his door was unlocked (common at the time) so I let myself in. While looking for something to eat, I found a small capsule in the freezer. I didn’t know what it was but, being game for anything, swallowed it. After about 30 minutes I began to feel a high I had never experienced before. I felt one with the Universe. The drug I’d taken was LSD.

Soon I walked to the ocean and waded in. Bobbing weightless there in the water, it felt like the ocean was making love to every cell of my body, enveloping me in a state of oneness and bliss. I had no idea you could experience things like that; it was a complete surprise–very positive, very cosmic–and I’m grateful for having experienced LSD that way the first time. Not everyone does.

A happy coincidence was that I first heard Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? that same day. It changed my life. I had never heard of Hendrix but knew then that I’d never forget him. Here was the most amazing guitar playing I’d ever heard. People still talk about him as being the greatest electric guitarist in history. What a privilege it was to first hear him in that altered state of consciousness. Yes, Jimi, now I am experienced! Like they say, “The Universe provides.”

In the next couple of years I would take a lot of acid. It gently reminded me that all of the hard, judgmental things I’d been told since childhood weren’t necessarily true and that life can be much more expansive, inclusive, vibrant, joyful. Getting high was a kind of homecoming, in much the same way that meditation is for me now. With LSD I could see that there was a whole universe out there, and within me, to embrace–the unity of all existence. The Beatles’ Within You Without You, written by George Harrison, is about this. I had the revelation that there was so much more to think about and to explore beyond what I’d been told, more than the narrow, detached establishment way with everything seemingly so black and white, separate, cold and calculating–my father’s world, the one I was never quite comfortable in.

Getting Ready To Hang Up The Phone

In 1968 a movie came out starring Cliff Robertson called Charly. It cinematically told the story of a developmentally challenged man, who is administered an experimental drug which renders him a genius. The climax of this fine movie comes when we learn that the effects of the drug are temporary, and that Charly reverts back to the way he was before. This movie impressed me as a morality tale for users of drugs like LSD. I’ve written above how acid changed my brain and my outlook. That was well and good; however, the effects were always temporary. When the drug wore off, I would find myself back in the flat, restrictive, black and white world, where my fellow humans showed no interest in the insights I’d gained while high. Worse, the mellowness of my acid-infused brain didn’t transfer over either. I was always back to being my self-conscious, disillusioned, cynical, angry self again. I could see that the self-medicating wasn’t working in the long run.

When drug-taking becomes a chronic behavior, everything can become distorted; a person can get lost to herself and become dysfunctional. The harder the drugs, the deeper the trap. The Beatles’ Everybody’s Got Something To Hide, ‘Cept For Me And My Monkey, written by John Lennon (who used heroin), is about this.  A couple of years later, while high on acid, I realized that I needed to remember what I’d learned from the drugs and stop taking them. LSD taught me something that stayed with me. After using, on and off, for about five years, I stopped taking drugs. Timothy Leary said taking drugs is like being on the phone, and when you finally get the message, you have to hang up. I got the message and–click. That was around 1972, but way before that I experienced the following:

Bobby

Robert Kennedy made a campaign speech at Cal State Northridge in March 1968 that I attended. It was estimated that over 12,000 people were there. Following his speech he was enthusiastically mobbed by maybe ten thousand of them. The quad was full of people, shoulder to shoulder. His handlers completely lost control of the situation, and he was carried along by this sea of human beings over shrubs, curbs and anything else in the swarm’s path. I knew immediately that there was a security problem with that man. I waded through the crowd to shake his hand and then waded out again. I’ll never forget it. I was a big fan of him and his agenda. Three months later, during another breakdown in security, he was shot dead.

U.S. Army, 1969

I was 20 when I entered the U.S Army early in 1969. By this time I had knocked around in several different colleges, dabbled in drugs and wasn’t focused. I had no sense that college graduation would mean anything to my life. I would just re-enroll because I thought I was supposed to. Due to poor academic performance, I wound up losing my student deferment. The day before I was to be drafted I enlisted so that I could choose my MOS. [Editor’s note: a Military Occupational Specialty code (MOS code), is a nine character code used in the United States Army and United States Marines to identify a specific job.] I chose 91alpha10 (aka combat medic) to do something positive rather than contribute to the violence of the war. I thought I could patch people up and get them off the battlefield, save lives–I had all that idealism going on. Besides, I didn’t even know these people we were fighting on the other side of the world. Why should I kill them? I thought. Maybe the old white guys who run this country have something against them because they’re Asian, much like some older guys who still talk about the “dirty Japs” of WWII. I hoped I’d be assigned to duty in the States.

I completed basic at Fort Ord, California and was one of five nominees for Outstanding Trainee of the Cycle. By this time the idea of being the best I could be appealed to me, and the disciplined environment of army training seemed to make that goal much easier to accomplish. I had taken the training very seriously, much like in H.S. football: Keep your head down, don’t complain, do the work. For example, on daily jogs with the platoon, I was focused and I never rested. At the end of basic we all had to take a Physical Training (PT) test. I was one of three to receive 500, the top score, in a company of about 250 soldiers. (And one of the other two guys was a Major League Baseball player who’d been drafted.) One of the tests consisted of running a quarter mile in fatigues and combat boots. I won that race. In another we had to carry a guy on our backs for 50 yards within a certain time. Yet another was to run an obstacle course, again in combat boots and fatigues, and also timed. I got the maximum scores on all of them.

I excelled at firing the weapons they gave us to train with: the M14 carbine and the M16 assault rifle. I easily qualified “Expert” on both. I had never even touched a firearm prior to going into the Army. Someone suggested that maybe I just didn’t have any old bad habits to have to unlearn.

On the other hand, in Advanced Individual Training (AIT), where soldiers were trained to do the jobs they’d be assigned, I learned that when your patrol is going through the jungle, the Viet Cong shoot the point man (the one at the head of the line). Then they shoot the medic (easily identified by his specialized field gear) because that eliminates the potential for an immediate medical response for the rest of the squad. I would have been a main target if I were in the field. Another thing I learned was that when patching people up, the idea was to get them back to the battlefield as quickly as possible so they could kill more Viet Cong. My idea was to get them out of harm’s way and maybe back to the States with their loved ones. Instead, all my idealism about doing the humanitarian thing could be undone by the armies’ agendas, both theirs and ours.

AWOL and The Family

Having learned the truth about being a combat medic, I felt betrayed but still duty-bound. A lot of people were confused at the time about the war. I certainly didn’t have enough knowledge and experience to have a cogent perspective. When I was ordered to Vietnam after AIT, my father said, “Son, you’re not going to Vietnam. That’s a stupid, disgusting war, not like the just war I fought in (WWII). This time our government is lying to us.” Still wanting approval for being the “good son” I said, “Dad, Uncle Sam is saying I need to go. It’s my duty to my country, and I love my country.” He said, “No, you’re not going.” I had to choose between Uncle Sam and my dad, so I chose to go AWOL, a status I was to have for 11 months.

I’m glad that my father was willing to speak his mind. In retrospect, I think it was one of the most important things he did for me. And, of course, he was right about the war.

At first, while AWOL, I lived with my mom—my parents were divorced—but I couldn’t stand staying with her. She had more emotional problems than I did, so I moved out. I had been hanging out with some guys, smoking pot, and dropping acid, as I had before joining the Army. Needing a place to live, I finally talked them into letting me move into the rental house they shared on Cerro Gordo in Echo Park, and it turned out that the only available space was the crawlspace under the house. All the rooms inside, including the closets, were filled at various times with ten to fifteen people. Mattresses were strewn wherever there was space. It was the classic crash-pad. The regulars that lived there called themselves The Family. One day the police knocked on the front door and reported that they were looking for the Manson Family. There I was, AWOL, and the main dudes that ran the place were using it to deal lots of drugs. When the person at the door said that we weren’t the Manson Family, the cops just left. When I learned of this, I thought, Wow, this is amazing. In another country they’d probably make some excuse to barge in, search the place, and question each of us. We’d all be in big trouble. I was so relieved.

Strange Days

At this time, I was working for an acquaintance helping him clean carpets for the Red Lobster Restaurants in the L.A. area. A little pickup job, not steady work, but I didn’t need much. The drugs being re-sold at the house on Cerro Gordo paid the rent. The landlord didn’t seem to know, or didn’t care, what was going on, which was typical of those times. Also typical was the fact that most of the cleaning up was done by the women who lived there full-time, so the place stayed pretty clean. I recall there were four women attached to three of the four main guys (The fourth one’s girlfriend lived elsewhere). One of these guys had long, straight blond hair and had a face like Errol Flynn. An (outside) woman we knew, who would show up with her boyfriend to buy drugs, would occasionally come over alone and present herself to “Errol” for sex (His own live-in girlfriend was not home, and how the visitor knew this I’ll never know). He told us that she wouldn’t say a word, just show up, get it on, and leave. Another of the main dudes had a woman (whom he called his wife and who was clearly psychotic), their child of about two years and mute like her mother (not a good sign), and his pregnant mistress (pregnant by another man) all living with him in one of the bedrooms. Signs of the times.

It was the summer of ’69, a time of free concerts known as love-Ins. In Elysian Park I saw Janice Joplin on stage fronting Big Brother and the Holding Company. At another concert I saw The Jefferson Airplane. Their most recent album was called “Volunteers.” I told a friend that I didn’t get the title. “Well, maybe they’re going to join the Peace Corps.” I was out of it enough to think he actually meant it. Wow, they must be really dedicated to peace and justice! So when I saw them later that month I approached the stage and asked Grace Slick, “Are you guys going to join the Peace Corps?” She said, “What? You mean the band?” Clearly, she didn’t know what the hell I was talking about.

I stayed at the Cerro Gordo house two or three months, sleeping in that crawl space. We were smoking pot, hashish, and dropping acid. Visiting dealers would treat us to some cocaine, MDMA and other recreational drugs, but none of the regular residents had a hard-drug habit. I was really into the psychedelics, and like many people, was actually self-medicating. I had suffered from depression since childhood due to family issues, bio-chemistry, genetics, whatever. Interestingly, researchers are now telling us that some of these substances actually do have therapeutic value.

It was at about this time that I had a near-death experience from an unintended drug overdose. I was at an after-concert party in Hollywood when my “friend” offered me a heaping spoonful of some drug. At first I refused it. He persisted until I took the spoonful and swallowed it. It turned out to be 100% pure pharmaceutical Nembutal, a powerful barbiturate, and the amount I took was an overdose. I went out like a palooka who’s just been hit with a haymaker. Someone there must have noticed that we were both slumped over. Reportedly when they first found me I had no detectable pulse or respiration. Later, my first realizations were that I was in big trouble–completely out of it–and that I was being “walked” around–almost carried really–by a couple of guys. This was standard practice at such parties where ODs were common. The idea was to keep the body moving so that respiratory collapse or cardiac failure was less likely. After walking us around until they were satisfied that we might survive, they left us crashed-out on the sidewalk and went back inside. They did save my life, however, and my friend’s too. I never got the chance to thank them. Sign of the times.

Today pharmaceutical Nembutal is approved for assisted suicide in the state of Oregon.

End of Part 2 of 4

A Political Turnaround by David Drum, Part 2 of 2

17 Dec

Part 2 of 2

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.

 

 

Somewhere along the line I lost my belief in Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy. Acting selfishly helped me get what I wanted, but it didn’t take other people’s feelings into account. I didn’t like what came with selfish actions — the guilt feelings, disappointments, and broken hearts.

I was accepted into the Iowa City Writers Workshop. When I arrived in Iowa City, I got some financial help from the school, and earned additional money through the university’s work study program. My second wife and I moved into a metal Quonset hut in married student housing. One of my fiction instructors, the novelist Robert Coover, was particularly encouraging my first semester of grad school. When he asked me to help him work on a film he was shooting, I leaped at the chance.

By the winter of 1967, campus sentiment was shifting heavily against the war. The University of Iowa campus was in turmoil. Every male student could be sent to Vietnam after he graduated, and TV news was revealing the Vietnam War to be a horrible quagmire. Students for the Democratic Society and other groups organized opposition to the war. The idea of revolution lingered in the air. Revolution could be heard in our music and our long-haired, restless, cooperative, love-making, pot-smoking campus culture.

Robert Coover wanted to make a documentary about a particular campus demonstration against the Dow Chemical Company. Dow made napalm, an insidious substance that our military was dropping onto Vietnamese civilians. Napalm burned all the way through the flesh and bones everywhere it touched the skin. And Dow was recruiting on campus. Students objected to Dow’s recruiters since their presence implied university support for the war and products like napalm. My role in the documentary was to carry a tape recorder and get some authentic crowd noise during the demonstration.

I remember that the winter air was cold on the morning of December 7, 1967. The sky was overcast. I was given a reel-to-reel tape recorder and shown how to use it. As students gathered, demonstrators set rubber dolls on fire to graphically dramatize the destructive effects of napalm. Angry speeches began on the steps of what I think was an old campus administration building. In the winter cold, I lugged my tape recorder up the steps to be closer to the speakers and the restless crowd. Suddenly one of the speakers shouted, “Let’s go get Dow Chemical!”

The front door to the building was locked, but students surged like a wave of water to the left side of the building. Someone opened an unlocked door. Protesters streamed into the building. I followed them, trying to stay in the middle of the crowd with the tape recorder.

I remember hurrying down a hallway. I remember seeing double doors burst open at the far end of the hall. I remember a wall of law enforcement officers running toward us, carrying batons.

One of them arrested me, and confiscated my tape recorder. I remember saying, “You’re making a mistake.” Reporters were supposed to have some immunity from arrest, but I didn’t know how to make that point, and anyway the officer who arrested me wasn’t listening.

I was handcuffed, led outside, and forced down on the sidewalk with some other arrested students. We were put into a police car and taken to jail. I wound up a group of about twenty other student protesters in a cell at the Iowa City Jail.

We were held for several hours. I remember all of us being walked into a small crowded courtroom, to enter pleas. Photographers were there, with flash cameras. Most of us were charged with disorderly conduct. I pled not guilty, as a lawyer I had never seen before advised me to do. I remember the rather distraught face of Robert Coover, who gingerly approached me when he had a chance and asked me how I was holding up.

Somebody posted fifty dollars bail for me. We were all released. The police kept the tape recorder, even though over the next several months I heard that the university made great efforts to have it returned.

My student life went on. I found another part-time job as a fry cook, working Friday and Saturday nights at an all-night diner and truck stop just off Interstate 80. I also stayed busy at school, where I had a full load of classes. A couple of my poems were published in little magazines. I worked on a novel. I reviewed visiting poets for the Daily Iowan, the university newspaper. It was a kick to see my articles in the newspaper, and wondered if I could do that for a living.

Although I had registered Republican, in the 1968 presidential election I voted for Hubert Humphrey, the Democrat, because I felt he was most likely to end the war. By 1969, the Vietnam War was raging. Lots of young men were getting draft notices, or joining up. A few weeks before I graduated, I was called to a pre-induction physical in Iowa City. My classification was now 1-A, which meant that I could be drafted as soon as I got out of school.

I had decided I didn’t want to serve in the military. However, I didn’t want to move to Canada. I didn’t want to amputate my trigger finger, or pretend that I was crazy. I didn’t want to find a psychiatrist who would write me a letter stating I was unfit for military service, as some of my friends did. My grandfather had hinted that he might pull some strings with the draft board, but I didn’t think that was right. My mother was urging me to volunteer. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.

My second wife and I drove cross country to San Francisco, where we rented an apartment on Haight Street. While in San Francisco, a draft counselor with the American Friends told me that if I changed my address every three months that the draft board would never catch up with me, since it took at least three months for them to update their records. Other options for avoiding the draft included applying for conscientious objector or CO status, which would keep me out, too.

Changing addresses worked for a while. After San Francisco, I lived briefly in Lake Tahoe, California, in two different apartments in Reno, Nevada, and in Los Angeles, always waiting until the last possible minute to send in change of address notices. Finally I got on at a newspaper in a small town in the San Joaquin Valley. I was hired as sports editor for the Madera Daily Tribune, the first job I’d had in which I was actually paid to write.

In Madera, I learned journalism the old way, by practicing it on the job. But the draft board caught up with me. When I received an induction notice, I filed for conscientious objector status. I submitted a written statement to the board, and I was granted a hearing with the local Madera County draft board. Basically, I argued it wasn’t Christian or right to kill other people.

Before the draft board could decide my case, President Richard Nixon cleverly split the antiwar movement. The first lottery in December of 1969 assigned potential draftees numbers according to birthdates drawn from a hat. Number one was the first to go. My birthday was drawn number 318, meaning that it was unlikely that I would ever be drafted for anything short of an all-out nuclear war. I never heard from the draft board again.

At the same time, politics beckoned. An organizer for the George McGovern presidential campaign blew through our dusty little town, desperate for someone to chair the long-shot campaign. All the old politicos in Madera County were committed to Ed Muskie, a senator from Maine who was heavily favored to win the nomination. On a lark, another reporter and I volunteered to co-chair the McGovern campaign. I had more enthusiasm than he did for the job, and I more or less ran our long-shot campaign in Madera County.

McGovern’s campaign was a continuation of Bobby Kennedy’s very progressive 1968 presidential campaign, which ended with his assassination. A former Methodist minister turned senator from South Dakota, and a personal friend of Bobby Kennedy, McGovern was campaigning on immediately ending the Vietnam War, drastically slashing the Defense Department budget, and more. In order to vote for him in the primary, I changed my voter registration to Democratic.

By late 1971 and early 1972, great numbers of Americans were staunchly against the war. Local people of all ages and races volunteered to help our campaign. Volunteers streamed into California from other parts of the country, and we put several of them to work canvassing precincts for the Democratic primary in June. McGovern won the California primary, and the Democratic party nomination, but unfortunately he lost the 1972 election to Nixon, who continued the war.

Sometime in there, I was surprised to receive a check for $50 from the Iowa City courts. Without explanation, they returned the money that had been posted for my bail. I wondered for years if Robert Coover ever got that tape recorder back, and if he was able to complete his film. Just last year, I corresponded with him and learned that the answer was yes. His 29 minute documentary film, “On a Confrontation in Iowa City,” was completed in 1969 and posted online in 2011 by the University of Iowa’s Digital Library. The film includes a brief shot of me and two other protesters being led to a police car just before the closing credits. I was also credited for helping with the sound.

After my political turnaround, I’ve remained more or less an antiwar liberal, or a progressive as it’s now called. I’m conservative in spending money, but I have marched in many demonstrations and given money to many good causes. As a registered independent, I now vote for the most sensible progressive Democrats or third party candidates I can find.

Like any good citizen, I read and think about the issues. I write and email my elected representatives. As I have done in the past, I sometimes jump up and demonstrate for a good cause when I hear the call.

END Part 2 of 2

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.

 

 

 

High School and the Influences of slavery, Assassinations, and the Vietnam War, by Kathy Green

11 Nov

rail biking with Chuck

Kathy Green was raised in St. Louis, Missouri. After majoring in geology, she became a National Park Ranger for five years. During that time, she met Chuck Kroger [the editor’s brother], whom she married in 1978. They settled in Telluride, Colorado in 1979, where they co-founded Bone (Back of Nowhere Engineering) Construction company. When Chuck died of pancreatic cancer in 2007, Kathy and co-workers continued the company’s projects. Kathy enjoys hiking, running rivers, making art (including silk dying), and working for environmental and social justice in her region.

 

Background: Missouri was the compromise state in the Civil War. Some of my great great great ancestors fought on the confederate side and owned slaves. My mother still has the slave book from that time, recording the births and deaths of the slaves. My mother also was told (oral history) that my fifth great grandfather was a “good owner” because he never broke up families.

I was in first grade in 1956 when Adlai Stevenson was running for president. My family had moved to Webster Groves a year earlier. Webster Groves, a St. Louis suburb, was more conservative and Republican than my family. My understanding is that all of my family had been Democrats since the Democratic Party was formed in the 1830s. A few family “rogues” have married Republicans but their kids have all been born Democrats. I came home in tears one day in late October 1956 because we had had a mock election at school. Out of 30 students in my class, Adlai Stevenson had gotten only six votes. Come election day that November, I was “working the election”—almost six years old, standing the required 100 feet from the door to the school/polling-place door, smiling and trying to hand every approaching voter a Stevenson brochure. Working elections was a family activity. A little metal pin of the bottom of a shoe with a hole worn in the sole is one of my prize possessions to this day. Go Adlai!

At the same time that I was a young child being taught to work elections and work to preserve historic buildings from demolition, my grandfather, John Raeburn Green, and the family law firm were under severe criticism and lost many clients during the McCarthy witch-hunt. My grandfather believed that everyone deserved counsel and he believed in free speech. He took the pro bono case of a man accused of being a Communist and defended him before the Supreme Court (and lost). For that volunteer work, Joseph McCarthy, from the Senate floor, called my grandfather and his law partner (one of the senators from Missouri) communists—a scary and destructive event at the time. Many of my family preferred to be activists that flew “under the radar” after that experience. We were never afraid to be Democrats, to work for social justice, environmental justice, and other liberal causes. We just did not need recognition—especially in the Senate. I didn’t understand the risk completely. I don’t think even my grandfather understood it that well. But I grew up my entire life with this story. My mother said never to tell anyone you were a socialist or a communist.

When I was five, my kindergarten teacher taught us the National Anthem and Dixie, one right after the other. One time when my family went to a ball game, everyone stood and sang the National Anthem. When it was over I started in to sing Dixie. My mom asked what on earth I was doing, and I said, Singing the next stanza. She said, No! Can’t you tell that those are two different songs? I couldn’t; apparently I’m tone-deaf/musically challenged. Throughout elementary school our music teacher had us sing both songs in succession.

 

Our family were big Hubert Humphrey supporters. Once John Kennedy became the Democratic candidate for President, we were all for him. We worked hard to help Kennedy win the election. Many of our friends were Republicans so during the 1960 election and during his presidency, I heard these friends rant and rave against JFK. On Nov. 22, 1963, I was almost 13 years old and in eighth grade. They told us over the junior high school speaker system that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. School was dismissed. I walked out of school confused and upset, into a howling rainstorm. As I tried to find the friends that I usually walked to and from school with, my mother suddenly appeared with my little brother to drive me home. Everyone was crying. At home, the TV was on full time—that never happened in our house; we traditionally watched only an hour or two of TV a day. All our friends came by our house over the next few days. The people that had been ranting and raving against Kennedy were crying and praising him. I found this total change in their feelings startling and confusing.

In my high school, Webster Groves, there were a series of ironic things that happened in my history classes. We were reading about socialism and communism and about sharing the wealth, and it seemed so intuitively obvious that that’s how the world should be run. On the one hand we were practicing duck and cover to protect ourselves from the Communists, but on the other hand we were learning how fair those systems are. Webster Groves was a pre-Civil War town that had had plantations and farms with slaves. Every kid knew disturbing history. In my junior year we had a teacher who was new to the area and kind of young. He started out with a lecture about people who had been slaves taking up the names of their owners after the Emancipation Proclamation. We were sitting there, black and white kids, some with the same last names, and we all knew that Johnny’s great great great grandfather had owned Sally’s family way back. We’d known this our whole lives, and the teacher was giving us this huge lecture. We were thinking, Yeah, so what? The teacher asked if there were any questions, and the black kid popped up and said, Yeah, I’ve got the same last name as he does because his grandfather owned mine. The teacher got a horrified look on his face. Apparently the history teacher didn’t know the history of the town he was teaching in. Things were not always perfect between the white and black students. We knew our history and knew that it wasn’t good or kind, but we felt it wasn’t worth dwelling on. Most of the time, we students wanted to move towards more racial equality. These high school lectures followed being taught to sing “Dixie” along with the “National Anthem” all through elementary school. Strange….

The next year we had Modern European History. A woman teacher started the first class with an introductory lecture. This class had about 20% black and 80% white students, with two random Asian students whose parents were professors at the big universities. The teacher lectured that we all came from Europe and that European history is the most important in the world, and on and on. She stopped and my friend Janet raised her hand. Janet has blond curly hair and blue eyes. Janet said, I am a Cherokee Indian, and this history has nothing to do with me, and why did you say that it did? The teacher said, Oh. She quickly started roll call, and she got to the name Janet Bushyhead. Janet raised her hand. She really was a Cherokee Indian and a princess at that. An Englishman had married into her tribe years and years ago, so lots of Bushyhead family had blond curly hair and blue eyes. Her dad looked much more Cherokee but her grandmother and sisters did not. It was a priceless moment. We were bratty sixteen-year-olds in 1967. To see the look on this teacher’s face. The black students were all smirking. Had one of them challenged her, they probably would have gotten sent to the principal. We thought, how can she lecture us when she could look out across the classroom. Maybe you don’t see the sleeper Indian princess in disguise but you could see the diversity that we did have in this small town.

When I was in high school, my dad became the selective service attorney counselor, so that if you were going to get drafted, you were provided with a lawyer to talk to. This was a volunteer post. It was interesting for me; I was a very shy, gawky, geeky sixteen-year-old high school kid and I was watching the sports stars at my school a year or two older than I who had not gone to college or dropped out and now were being drafted and would come over one evening a week. My dad would come home early. I would sit at the top of the stairs where I could hear what was being said. They were almost in tears. I’d listen to what my dad was telling them about deferrals. There wasn’t much hope he could offer them. It was sad, and some of them never came home. This counseling brought it all alive for me, just like World War II later came alive for me when I traveled in Germany. My mother told me a lot of stories about World War II, and watching this unfold in my younger years brought it all home and understand the impact of being in your teens and early 20s during that war was so incredibly major.

My parents started out tolerant of the Vietnam war; it seemed like something the U.S. ought to do. My dad had served in World War II. It made him grow up but it also distorted the rest of his life. In time my family got more and more angry about the war. Both my grandmothers had these big buttons that said “Grandmothers for McGovern” and were very active in his campaign. That’s one of the things that shaped my high school years from 1965 to 1968. The other thing that influenced me was the knowledge that my great great great grandfather had owned slaves, and then, after “Roots” was aired, to see black people come to our house to look up their family histories in the slave book. Then in the spring of 1968 a lot of dramatic events happened. Martin Luther King was killed, and then the night before I graduated from high school, Bobby Kennedy was killed. It was this weird feeling. I can remember we were having our family dinner before we went to the graduation ceremony, and there were these graduate parties afterwards, and I was sitting there all dressed up in those silly clothes, supposed to be celebrating the biggest event of my life, and we’d just had another assassination. It was really hard to reconcile the two: to go forward with the ceremony and the congratulations and to party that night and the assassination the day before. There wasn’t much alcohol and barely any marijuana at this party because it was 1968 in the Midwest. Five years later everybody would have gotten drunk or stoned to mourn the assassination. But it was a real wake-up call that these things were happening my senior year of high school.

Graduating from high school is a big change in your life, but graduating into a world where assassination was becoming an everyday occurrence was scary. What would college and adult life be like?  [to be continued]

Wearing Whites: My Time in the Military by Roger

12 Aug

Roger lives in the San Diego area, has two children and seven grandchildren, and frequently travels with his family. He spends his summers at a lake in northwestern Montana.

 

In 1966 when I was a junior at college in Billings, Montana, I was drafted because my grades had dropped below the threshold. I believed anyway that serving my country was my duty and that I would be proud to do it. I feared going off to Vietnam but was willing to do so if needed.

I was inducted at Butte, Montana and did my basic training at Ft. Lewis, Washington, where ours was only the second group to go through basic there since World War II. Coal-fired boilers heated the barracks. We had to keep the windows open as a precaution because of the meningitis outbreak at Fort Ord in San Francisco. Doctors thought that open windows would help prevent an outbreak at Ft. Lewis.

After basic, I was sent to Fort McPherson, 3rd Army Headquarters, in Atlanta. I was assigned to the hospital laboratory school for training as a lab technician. Back at Ft. Lewis I had had the requisite testing in basic training and received an extremely high score on the code translation test. I had been exposed to Morse Code in Boy Scouts but never got my merit badge because I hadn’t proved competent in it. So when I took the requisite battery of tests in basic, I just filled in random answers on the multiple choice test. When they called us in to discuss the tests, I was told I got one of the highest scores they’d ever seen in code translation. They  wanted to send me to the communication school in Ft. Huachuca, but I told them I didn’t want to do communication and would prefer to “wear whites,” meaning to be assigned to a medical unit, hopefully in the U.S.

To get to Atlanta we took a Delta jet through Chicago. It was my first travel on a jet plane. We landed at O’Hare Airport in Chicago and I was overwhelmed at the immensity of it. In Atlanta we waited at the airport for someone to pick us up. Announcements were made over poor loud speakers in a southern drawl; we couldn’t understand any of it.

The Ft. McPherson base (Ft. Mac) itself was luxurious compared to Ft. Lewis. There were 600 acres; more than half of the base consisted of a golf course. It was a place where old soldiers were headquartered shortly before they retired. There was a laboratory school. In retrospect I often wondered if there weren’t connections for most of us to get into this particular school because the really big lab school was in Ft. Sam Houston in Texas with several hundred students. We, on the other hand, had only 21 or so students.

Once two friends, Keith and Bob, and I went to meet Keith’s new girlfriend at a Southern Baptist Church. We were told we would arrive after the service, but it turned out that the service hadn’t yet begun so we reluctantly sat through it. We found ourselves sitting in the front row.

At the end of the service the preacher said, “Those of you who have seen the light of Jesus and accepted him as your savior, please rise.” We three just sat there. The pastor repeated this twice, his voice rising in pitch each time. We were embarrassed but didn’t succumb. On the way out of the church, the minister greeted everyone. As he shook my hand, I said, “I think it’s strange that this is Atlanta, Georgia. Why are there no black people in this church?” Whereupon he pulled on my hand, yanking my arm, and guided me firmly out the door without responding to my question.

There was only one black student at the lab school. Joe was a lifeguard from Los Angeles before being drafted. I’d never had occasion to be friends with a black man before, having grown up in Kalispell, Montana. We’d go out to classy places in Atlanta like the Top of the Mart, where we had no problems being served.

I had married my wife on leave at Christmas time, and we rented an apartment. At a party at my place, Joe was standing by the pool when some of my friends shoved him in, all in fun. The day after the pool incident, I was contacted by my C.O. He was from Lubbock, Texas. “Don’t you know where you are?” he asked me.

“I know very well where I am,” I replied, mimicking his tone.

“Well, obviously you don’t. And you’re going to have to learn!” It turned out that a white sergeant in the same apartment complex had complained about Joe. Later after we were intimidated into moving out, we found out that the pool had been closed for three days to be drained and “cleansed.”

A friend of mine had put a deposit on another unit in the same complex. He was asked if he knew me and my wife. “Yes,” he replied, “and I have a lot more friends [implying black friends] than they do.”

“How do you want your deposit back?” the manager asked him.

Our next apartment was in the middle of a black neighborhood. A twenty-foot barbed wire fence “protected” it. However, the managers did tell me there was no problem if I had black visitors. Six months later a law was passed prohibiting landlords from discriminating against military personnel.

I had a best friend from college in Montana—he’d been best man in absentia at my wedding because he was serving in Vietnam at the time. He wanted to go into politics someday. K.C. [not his real name] felt that serving in the military was important to his political aspirations, (although he would have willingly volunteered anyway). In order to be accepted he had to go through Montana Senator Mike Mansfield, then Senate Majority Leader and a former marine, who pulled strings for him because he didn’t meet the height requirement. He went from Camp Pendleton in California to Vietnam, where he was serving his tour.

It was the end of my lab training and we were sitting in Atlanta waiting to be assigned and watching the national news on TV. The news always reported the number of fatalities and told stories about some of the men. Although his name wasn’t mentioned, I got chills down my spine and said, “K.C. Is dead.” He hadn’t been required to do any more patrols because his remaining tour of service was only three days. However, because he wanted to spend the remaining time with his men, he volunteered to go out on a final patrol with them. He took point [led the patrol], stepped on a landmine, and was killed. My wife and I established a scholarship at our alma mater in his honor. I still think about this incident with great sadness.

One week later I got orders to ship out. It was all hush-hush. We had no idea where we were headed. We loaded our supplies at the train tracks. After flying for three days in a C130 transit plane, touching down in Kentucky, San Francisco, Honolulu, Wake Island, Guam, and flying over Vietnam, we landed at Korat Air Force Base in Thailand.

I was stationed in a field hospital. They called it a mobile lab, but it didn’t really move. It was in the middle of nowhere and I hated it. It served as support for the air base for daily bombing raids on Vietnam and was 80 kilometers from Cambodia. There were illegal flights over Cambodia and Laos against the will of those countries’ governments, in order to reach Vietnam.

While there, I learned that doctors are not what you think. I had always considered them intelligent, but there was one in particular that opened my eyes. Ours was considered a “hardship tour of duty,” which meant, among other things, that no relatives or spouses were allowed there. One black sergeant violated the rule and kept his diabetic wife there. At the time of the incident I was on call. A doctor from Beverly Hills—a draftee—was on duty. The sergeant’s wife came into the clinic, needing insulin. Dr. H refused to see her. I pleaded with him to no avail. After talking to her for a while, I went off to sleep. In the morning I went into the lab, which also served as a morgue, and found her lying on a slab. I was sickened and furious. That rich SOB! I will never forget that incident.

Dr. H would order all the lab tests he could think of, regardless of need and even though he knew we couldn’t carry out many of them due to our limited facilities. But he would make it an immediate order [called STAT] and then ignore the results.

In one area of Thailand, soldiers were collecting mosquitoes for a malaria study. A soldier from the study came into the hospital, feeling sick. Malaria showed up in his lab test. Dr. H didn’t know what to do, and the kid died. The pathologist, a captain and our boss, had the authority to bring charges. But Dr. H had more time in and therefore outranked our boss. Also, our boss had acquired his medical degree through the army; i.e., he wasn’t wealthy. Therefore he feared retaliation and backed down. Charges were never brought.

I didn’t experience much danger in Thailand. Once when I was at the enlisted men’s club, the “Thai Cong” blew up our ammo depot, which scared the hell out of us. The whole building shook.

Once three MIGs were intercepted as they headed towards the base. A red alert was declared; the base was blacked out, except for the lighted red cross on the hospital roof. Our C.O. insisted that that light be turned off also. It took a long time to figure out how to do this. Meanwhile, we sat in the dark in the hospital over a flask of scotch.

Another incident was at the grand opening of Veena’s Restaurant. Veena was the wife of the former hospital C.O., who died leaving her his military insurance, enabling her to start the restaurant on Freedom Highway, a road built by the U.S. headed towards Cambodia. Veena was especially fond of us hospital personnel and treated us like royalty, so 90% of the hospital personnel along with most of the base command were present at the opening of her restaurant. I was approached by a friend from CID [military intelligence] and ordered to inform the general that we needed to evacuate immediately because the CID had found three mortars in the surrounding area directly aimed at the restaurant and it was unknown if there were more.

As to casualties, in order to cope with them, I had to gradually learn to distance myself from the horror that was the reality of my job. I remember one pilot that crashed at the end of the runway and nothing was left of him but a mass of charcoal; nothing human-looking remained of his body at all.

When I arrived in Oakland in 1968 at the end of my tour of duty, we were required to wear our uniforms to fly home on stand-by. Our commander had warned us to ignore any demonstrators. It was a rainy day. As we were driven by bus to a plane bound for San Diego, we saw demonstrators with their anti-war signs. It was painful, the lack of understanding for the effort I had just made in serving my country.

Last year, along with another Vietnam-era vet and a World War II vet, I had occasion to visit the World War II museum in New Orleans. It was a moving experience. It had taken 46 years for me to hear the two words, “Welcome home.”

 

Hippy Soldier, by Jim Diggle

8 Jan

Jim Diggle

Jim Diggle has a carpet and upholstery cleaning business in Los Angeles, which he’s been operating since 1983. Today he’s a Buddhist, “taking refuge in the triple gem Buddha-Dhamma Sangha.” He practices yoga and meditates daily. Jim helped raise the two teenage children of his Peruvian wife.

 

 

 

 

In the early 1960s, I was 13 and lived in Santa Monica. I was from “Leave It to Beaver”—you do as you are expected. My dad was an aircraft mechanic but had trouble keeping a job. My mom was Peruvian and no longer worked after she came to the U.S. I found my parents conservative, uncommunicative, repressed, and cold. My friends, however, were lucky to have hands-on, friendly parents. I’d visit them, and then I’d go home and feel withdrawn. I believe it was this experience that affected my ability to be intimate in relationships. My family was Catholic—I was a “good little boy.” Because of the Church’s influence, I was afraid to act myself. I look back at those years as if I was going through the Inquisition. When I did anything free of restraint, I regretted it. I believed in Mortal Sins—if I was “bad,” I’d go to hell. My peers may have rebelled but I never did.

In 1964 I graduated from high school and attended Santa Monica City College. Through the media’s reporting on critical war news and the counter-culture movement, I became anti-religious, anti-church, anti-establishment, and anti-war. College was not for me; I hated it and did poorly. I had few friends. The only reason I attended college was to get out of my house. I studied subjects like liberal arts, art, history, and geography but avoided science and math, although they were required subjects.

Jim Portrait as Young Man
When I realized I wasn’t going to make it at college, I decided that the only way to get away from my family was to join the army. So I enrolled in only a few units at college, became classified 1A, and got drafted. (That was ironic because I considered myself anti-war.)

In the army most of the other draftees were also against the war. In Basic Training in October of 1966 at Fort Ord in Monterrey, California, everyone was from the L.A. area. There were 17 to 20 of us. I was thrown together with people from various socio-economic levels, a new experience for me. Mainly white, some blacks and Mexicans. Many were hippies, with long hair—street guys, rebellious, with disciplinary problems, gang-like—especially the whites and Mexicans. (The black draftees were calmer and more well-behaved.)

In the army the coolest guy was a super hippy. He was a well-balanced, mild person. He shared his record albums of the Mothers of Invention and Frank Zappa. He adapted to the army and became a battalion leader, but most of the other white guys goofed off. As for me, I was still scared of everything.

During medic training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, I was sure I’d be sent to Vietnam. Instead I was sent to Germany. Other guys had to learn to use M-16s. Wow! I get to go to Europe.

army truck.2          army truck.1

I was 13 months in Germany, stationed in Augsburg. There I was again thrown in with everyone—blacks, hillbillies (the most aggressive). Most sergeants were southerners or blacks. They were lifers—just doing their jobs no matter what. But I met some anti-war guys who turned me on to Bob Dylan, to folk music, to books on the counter culture,  to literature by Samuel Beckett and James Joyce. Drugs were cool. That’s where I became a hippy. Draftees had to stay out of trouble; even though I was anti-war, I had to survive. But at least the army couldn’t tell us how to think.

army locker

The inside of my locker at Augsburg

platoonInAugsburg

My platoon

red cross tank winter Augsburg

I emerged from the army even more anti-everything. I lived for a while with my family in Santa Monica and got a job at St. John’s hospital as an orderly. But I didn’t take the job seriously. After my father died in 1969, Mom sold the house and left for Peru with my 16-year-old sister, who was quite a handful—smoking dope, dropping acid, and running away from time to time with her friends.

Jim's mother, sister (R) and friend

My mother and sister (R) and friend

I quit my job and decided to live as a hippy; it was similar to being homeless. With my family, I had only sporadic communication, which was easy because I felt no strong bonds to them.

I met Cecelia Holland, a hippy and successful author of historical fiction in her early 20s, and my friend Jack and I went to live in her house in Pasadena. I paid her $30 a month. I was cashing in my U.S. bonds by then. (The army had taken $18 a month out of our pay.)

I still had a severe fear of intimacy—no girls, no sex. I thought I’d be that way forever. I used drugs and had no thoughts about tomorrow. Finally I hit rock bottom. I had no money left, only $18 checks coming in from my savings bonds. I cashed in the bonds.

My older half-sister and her husband found out about my situation. Although they were conservative, they took pity on me. They would pay my way to Peru, they said. I contacted my mother who said yes, come down. I cut my hair and headed to Peru. That was in 1970.

I wondered what I’d do to get high there. People were copying American culture, the good, bad and ugly. I ran into an old friend, started doing marijuana and cocaine, and fell into the same situation as in the States. After I’d been in Peru ten months,  I told Mom I was going back to the U.S.

But the old crowd in the U.S. had changed. The hippy thing had mainly disappeared. Everything was changing. Kids weren’t living on the streets any more north hitchhiking. They were getting jobs, living in apartments, getting to be more responsible—things cost money. I hooked up with the brother of one of the Peruvian guys who had come to the U.S. We shared an apartment and I got a job right away. I had to. No more free life—nothing is free.

My friend was full of energy and didn’t do many drugs. Then I took up with a Latino crowd. I spoke Spanish. Also, I started relating to girls for the first time. I tried college again but was no more mature than before.

Since I had no ambition, any job was OK. I took on menial jobs at markets and factories. It was easier to survive on very little back then. An older friend of a Peruvian buddy of mine was a carpet and upholstery cleaner, who needed part-time weekend help. I worked a while for him.

By that time I had a regular job in shipping at Telecolor (a company that went house to house taking pictures). I met a Bolivian, Eduardo Villanueva, a geologist who traveled around the world looking for oil on the ocean bottom. So I went to Utah to work with him in the Great Salt Lake. Barges patrolled the lake, exploring the sub-surface. They used air cannons, aimed at the bottom, creating a wave that traveled 10,000 feet below the surface, and then they recorded it on a Richter scale as it created an earthquake under the water. If it was flat, that meant no oil. If there were cracks and fissures, there was oil and a drill would be sunk.

Barge Salt Lake.1           Barge Salt Lake.2           Barge Salt Lake.3

We covered the whole Salt Lake. In 1974 the workers on the barge led a nomadic life, travelling the world. They were alcoholics, southerners; many came from broken families. Digicon, Inc. from Texas was the parent company; we had a joke: “Who didja con to get to work for you?” The working conditions were tough. We spent many hours on and then many hours off. We almost sank but the water was only four feet deep. On the plus side, the job paid well and provided room and board, so you could save money.

After Salt Lake I went up to Alaska with this same job, to Prudhoe Bay on the north slope. This was from 1974 to 1975. A pipeline was being laid from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez on the southern Pacific coast. We were in the Arctic, on the Beaufort Sea. There were three months of total darkness and three of total light. Polar bears, 60 degrees below zero, crazy workers. One Christmas night there was a gun fight between two drunken brothers. (Guns were legal there, for “self-protection.”) In the Arctic, we almost sank, but we were rescued and towed into the port at Prudhoe Bay.

Barge.Alaska.3      Barge.Alaska.1      Barge.Alaska.2

I didn’t like my boss, an alcoholic. He’d fly off the handle when he wasn’t drinking. One day we were in dry-dock and he fired me. I left for Anchorage and then for Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles I hooked up with the same carpet cleaner I’d worked for earlier. He let me work part-time for him again. I also took a second job full-time job as an interior designer’s helper in 1976.

my boss

The interior designer I worked for

(By 1983 I’d formed Diggle Enterprises, a carpet and upholstery cleaning business. When my boss retired in 1992, I took over his carpet cleaning business as well.)

In the early 1970s I finally started to overcome some of my intimacy issues and was having relationships but with only superficial commitments.

Girls

I told myself I needed to do something about my life. I wasn’t in a good place; I wanted to settle down, have a family. On a trip to Peru in the 1980s I met my future wife Pilar. After beginning a superficial relationship with her, I gradually began to change because of her intelligence and wisdom. She taught me how to be a genuine human being.

Peru with skull

Me in Peru

Looking back, I have no regrets because if that’s what I had to go through to get where I am right now, then so be it. Now I am a different person, a happy person. My experiences counted for something and I wound up in a much better place.

How the War in Vietnam Politicized Me, by Paul Krehbiel

29 Jun

Paul Krehbiel is the author of Shades of Justice, a coming-of-age memoir set in the 1960s. It is available at autumnleafpress.com. Paul lives in Pasadena, California, and has been a labor activist and organizer most of his life.

In the early 1960s I was in junior and senior high school in a suburb of Buffalo, populated by a mixture of white-collar professionals and blue-collar workers.  Our community was virtually all white. I played sports, did art, hung out with my friends, went to parties, and spent time with my girlfriend. My neighborhood had a bully, who was a couple of years older, and who tormented my peers and me. I was aware of the civil rights movement, especially the sit-ins and marches in the south, and was sympathetic. The disparities in wealth in Buffalo were very clear, with the Black community depressed, and many white communities – but not all — living comfortably.  I wondered why bad people existed, why we had racism, and why there were rich and poor people.

VietnamWarGIsInWater

The war in Vietnam was heating up by 1966, the year I turned 18 and graduated from high school. I registered for the draft, as required by law, but started thinking, wasn’t there some way to resolve disputes without going to war. These thoughts deepened when a guy I knew in high school, who was a year older, came back from Vietnam paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair for life. Suddenly, wars weren’t just some event in my history book from the past. I realized that I could be drafted and sent to Vietnam whether I wanted it or not, and be forced to kill people I didn’t know and had nothing against, or be killed or injured myself. I had to find out more about the war so I could decide what to do if I was drafted.

I grew up in what seemed like a typical family. My dad worked in a small surveying business started by his dad, and my mom worked in our home taking care of my two younger brothers and me. When I raised these social justice questions with my parents, they didn’t know the answers, or the responses they gave seemed unsatisfactory. My dad said that the government knew more about these things, and if called to serve in war, we had to do it. He had served in WWII, and I knew the Nazis had to be stopped. But, Vietnam seemed different. How was a small, poor country on the other side of the globe a threat to us or anyone else?

I went to a community college in Clearwater, Florida to major in art, and to get out of Buffalo’s cold winters. There I saw the starkness of racism. Blacks were segregated in poor housing and neighborhoods, and I saw a shantytown in a nearby rural area of collapsing shacks and mud roads. At the first dance of the semester, I danced with a Black student, and the white students near us stopped dancing, formed a circle around us, and glared. One angry white student asked me if I wanted to start a race riot. It was tense.

I saw scenes on the TV news or in magazines of dead Vietnamese women and babies on the ground lying in pools of blood, and turned strongly against the war. I saw the war as a crime of murder against both Vietnamese and the young American men forced to fight.  In 1967 I made a pen and ink drawing for an art class to protest the war. I drew an ornately carved coffin with a flag draped over it, next to an Army recruiting sign. The sign read: “Join the Army, a Proud Future Could be Yours.” I put a line through “Proud” and wrote “Dead.”

Vietnam-JoinTheArmy

I knew that I would not go to Vietnam, and decided to go to Canada.  Some people said that if I refused to be drafted I should accept the punishment of breaking the law and go to prison. But, why should I go to prison, I responded. I had done nothing wrong. The government leaders who launched the war in Vietnam should go to prison.

I applied and was accepted at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto, and began there in the fall of 1967. I hadn’t been drafted yet and hadn’t broken any laws, so I came back to Buffalo on weekends to see my girlfriend, and to work in the summers. I had one job in an auto parts factory where the working conditions were bad. I got active in the union, which was the beginning of my lifelong involvement in the labor movement. In 1968, I supported two war resisters who took sanctuary in the Buffalo Unitarian Church, and I went to Chicago in August to protest the war outside the Democratic National Convention.

 

DraftEvasionTorontoI spent a year and a half in Canada. In the fall of 1968, I was working in a metal fabricating plant making furniture. While operating a punch press machine, I lost two fingers in an industrial accident. The machine had jammed and the safety guard was defective. It was difficult studying sculpture with missing fingers, so I returned to the US and contacted my draft board. I was classified medically unfit for military duty.

I had friends who were students at the University of Buffalo, so I began sitting in on classes. There was a very active anti-war movement on campus, along with other social justice causes. In January 1969, I attended night school and became heavily involved in the Buffalo Draft Resistance Union, and later in Students for a Democratic Society. I attended and helped plan anti-war demonstrations and other political activities on campus, and switched my major to Philosophy. The Philosophy Department was a home for left-wing students, teaching assistants, and some full-time faculty. I started reading Marx in my classes.  By the end of the spring semester, I was a socialist.