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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

High Places in America

Beginning with coming into my parents’ lives, in my first years I was woefully late for everything important.   Now, in my concluding years, I am hoping that the same fortunate tardiness will continue, and without too much pain and suffering.  So far it has, save for events that take place far away, geographically speaking, such as the recent elections.

Consequently, it wasn’t till I got into my 30’s – which almost exactly coincided with the 1960’s, the most important and far-reaching decade in recent American history so far, though young conservatives will bitterly and stupidly reject that opinion -- that I stopped being so much of a retard in all matters, especially socially.  Lagging behind my contemporaries by 10 years, I finally did such things as easing into some sort of a sex life, learning to drive a car, getting married, buying a house of my own, getting real jobs, publishing two books (plus also writing a number of others that I think are much better yet are still unpublished), fathering a son, and in general settling down with a fair idea of what I wanted to do through the rest of my life.

That included going to Japan in 1966 with my new wife on a sort of extended honeymoon while we spent the summer leisurely traveling through that country, which I already knew quite a lot about, as I had been there twice before, first at the behest of Uncle Sam, and later because of getting a college fellowship.

During that ’66 swing, one afternoon we were looking at the walls of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto when a young Japanese guy, eager to take another shot at improving his English, engaged us in earnest conversation – an event that was frequently a part of traveling through Japan.  Everything was proceeding on the normal course of topics of no particular importance, when he suddenly hit us with an unexpected question that hit me in my mind like a ton of bricks.  He asked what we thought of the American involvement in Vietnam.
      I was intensely embarrassed, because I didn’t want to admit that, though I prided myself on being a good and even reasonably informed American,  I thought exactly nothing about the American involvement in Vietnam, and the truth was, in startling contrast to the way that I am today, I had paid almost zero attention to things in Vietnam, though by 1966 that situation had already been going on for the better part of two decades.

I had heard mentions of Vietnam now and then, and I vaguely knew that some sort of a contest was going on there, but to me it was little more than a sporting event that we Americans could expect to win at some time in the future, and that was all.   And unfortunately by that time I had long since lost the interest that I had had in my more juvenile days in all such things as basketball, baseball, and football games.   I had decided, and rightfully so, that, especially because I had never participated and would never do so in those kinds of events, they were of no consequence whatsoever and therefore not worth following, and it was in that discarded bracket that Vietnam had always  existed, slumped, in my mind.

If I had known, I might have been made more comfortable by the fact that very few other Americans would have been able to give any kind of a sensible answer to that question either, because, as Barbara W. Tuchman tells us in her great book, “The March of Folly,” the details of that American involvement in Southeast Asia had been kept largely a secret from the American public.  Yet, here was a young guy who was neither American nor Vietnamese, yet was interested enough in that issue to ask what we thought of the things our leaders were doing – or not doing – in Vietnam.

Now, 50 years farther on, all of a sudden, though I had preferred reading about how the British lost America, I am reading Tuchman’s chapters on Vietnam with great interest and excitement, just as if it is a thriller and even because I know exactly how that story is going to turn out.  That is because I still remember precisely what I was doing in that same period, down to the exact year, and year by year.  And that, in turn, is because, by chance, at that very same time I was heavily involved in very different and of course far, far less sweeping (though in the end much more successful) events that took place just a few city blocks in D.C. from the marble edifices in which the likes of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, plus all their world-famous generals and experts, were busy ignoring dozens of “fact-finding missions” that ended up advising the power structure to get the hell out of Vietnam while they could and without losing too much face.  Yet they in all their keen perceptions and wisdom (and fears of the American public) kept making decisions as if World War 2 was still going on and Vietnam was merely the last island that had to be landed upon with the Marines, a la Saipan and Okinawa, and delivered into freedom, only from Communism and not the Japanese.

Today I have more reason than ever to keep paying close attention to what people are doing in their marble palaces and offices here and overseas, because the latest occupants in those high places in America are a bunch of ignorant dummies with bad intentions who in the next few years figure to be especially disposed to indulge in all sorts of follies that Ms Tuchman would never have wanted to explore.  I think that it definitely comes through that she always would have wished for for better on the parts of the citizens of Troy, the popes of the Renaissance, the leaders of 18th century Britain, and those American Presidents of the 1950’s and ‘60’s, and she only recounted those stories in a sort of elevated despair peculiar to hindsight but today – I believe -- is susceptible to accuracy in foresight as well.


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