When I think of apples, I think of whipped cream; and, when I think of whipped cream, I think of apples.
I have never been able to ascertain the reason/reasons for this mental modus operandi, not even from any of my favorite “philosophical friends”: David Hume, Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre.
When I think why I sat under an olive tree in Calenzano, Italy, 27 March 1994, set to flames my United States’ passport, dried my eyes, and then returned home to write a letter renouncing my United States’ citizenship, six words scurry unhesitatingly through my mind: TOO MANY LIES, TOO MANY TIMES; and I have reason to believe why I think so: On My North American Dream-My North American Nightmare Ledger Sheet (Immanuel Kant), the Nightmare checks far overbalance the Dream ones.
I readily grant that my tallies on the North American Dream side bring back many excessively tender memories, many joyous occasions, many “funny inside feelings,” and many truly good times. These reflections remind me of several actual feelings that I am both proud and happy to carry the memories of with me still. They are part of me and will always be. I am profoundly disappointed that my Nightmare scores far outweigh my Dream scores. In renouncing my United States’ citizenship I have acted to attempt to make my life more whole and rewarding for myself. And, then, for others.
In this brief written arrangement, three of those Nightmare checks, causes that provide logical sense for my premise, taken randomly, will be elaborated upon. The third motive succeeds the second, in time, almost without intervention.
I sincerely hope this exposition will stimulate productive debate.
Anthony St. John 31 August 1994 Calenzano, Italia
The First Tyranny of a Majority
The Iron Rule of an Unaccountable Greater Number
I “said” my first Mass in Brooklyn, New York when I was seven or eight years old, and my next-door friend, Gerry, served as my altar boy. Later, we switched impersonations, and he “said” his first Mass.
We used a varied assortment of articles we saw the priests in our parish church, St. Nicholas, employ when they “said” Mass. We used candy wafers as communion hosts which Gerry and I changed into the Body of Jesus Christ. A wine glass served as a chalice and Coca-Cola was transubstantiated into the Blood of Jesus Christ. My father’s scarf (stole) was hung over my shoulders at the back of my neck to show that I could officiate. We used women’s gowns and bathrobes (chasuble and alb). We made birettas out of black art paper…a dictionary was our missal…oil and vinegar utensils were our cruets…a saucer was our paten…one of mother’s rings was our bishop’s ring…. We laughed when we dismissed our imaginary congregation parodying the Latin phrase “Dominus vobiscum” with “Dominic, go frisk them!”
Other boys and girls played on the sidewalks or in the street in front of us. And we wished one day we might “hear” their confessions and save them from the red hot fires of an interminable Hell. I had no qualms about not being outside with those “ruffians” because it had been embedded in my brain that one day I would offer those sinners (“I hate, Lord, those who hate you”!) a service which would connect them to a higher and mightier afterlife full of happiness and reward in a Paradise made in the image of God Himself.
When I held the “host” in my hands and touched the chalice with Christ’s “blood” in it, goose bumps popped out all over me. I could not wait to enter the seminary my mother had chosen for me to attend when I reached the age of twelve. I wanted so fervently to change real hosts and real vin santo into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. I could only make believe, for now, that I was a priest. I spent long periods in the joy of knowing I had been “touched on the shoulder by God” to serve Him as one of His personal servants, and I took my vocation very seriously. And unlike Bertrand Russell, I did not contemplate killing myself at the tender age of five because I could not see clear to believe in a Supreme Being. I was living in a Roman Catholic dream world that promised me a happy, useful life and I was enjoying every minute of it.
I will never be able to know how many times the word “catholic” formed on my lips, and I will never be able to count how many Catholic people crossed the path my life was following when I was a boy. I had been born in a Catholic hospital…I delivered to Catholic homes the Catholic newspaper, The Tablet…I sold a Catholic monthly magazine, The Catholic Digest, outside St. Nicholas Church on Sunday mornings…I went to summer camp run by Catholic members of the Catholic Youth Organization…my doctor was Catholic…my dentist was Catholic…John, the butcher, was Catholic and his sons went to Catholic schools…when I came home from a trip to my uncle’s home in the suburbs of Chicago, my mother asked me if the friends I had met there were Catholics…I initialed “J.M.J.” (Jesus, Mary and Joseph) at the top of every page I wrote on in every Catholic school I attended…I watched Bishop Fulton J. Sheen’s Catholic television program every Tuesday night not understanding ever what he was talking about but always wishing to grow up to be like him…my mother and father’s friends were Catholic and they talked about their Catholic friends…the sex manual in my parents’ bedroom, where I sneaked to read, was written by a Catholic psychiatrist who advocated a birth control method dependent on continence during the period of female ovulation…I ate fish on Friday because I was a Catholic…I said a prayer for the dead and blessed myself when I passed a Catholic cemetery…I bought Catholic raffle tickets…all the books I read were Catholic and imprimatur and nihil obstat were stamped on their title pages…many of the Catholic authors of these Catholic books were tagged with “S.J.” or “O.F.M.” or “O.P.”…Catholic priests dined at my home…my mother chauffeured Catholic nuns to their Catholic doctors and Catholic dentists…my scoutmaster was Catholic…drunken Catholic World War II veterans drank green beer in our kitchen in the early morning hours…my barber was Catholic…I would never have been given permission to work for Irish Catholic William F. Buckley, Jr.’s National Review had he been a Jew…my tonsils were extracted in a Catholic hospital and Catholic nuns nursed me…our 1953 Chevrolet was blessed and sprinkled with Catholic holy water…the calendar in our kitchen was decked with saints and their days…we had a poor box in our house to collect money for foreign missionaries…under the rear-view mirror of our Chevy a plastic Jesus, with a magnet under Him, stood firm and fast and His right hand was upped with His blessing…a St. Christopher’s medal was attached to the sun visor…my father’s boss was Catholic…when I left the seminary I was told I would attend Catholic university-or else…I went to Catholic parties with Catholic boys and Catholic girls…my favorite baseball player was Brooklyn Dodgers’ first baseman, Gil Hodges, a Catholic…my parents dreamed of a trip to Europe to see the Pope and his cathedrals…I went to Irish-Catholic wakes where everyone was drinking Irish whisky…we stopped at Catholic churches along the highway…when away in a hotel, the first question my mother asked the receptionist after registration was: “Where can we hear Mass on Sunday?”…no room in my home did not possess a Catholic statue or Catholic crucifix or Catholic holy picture…behind our apartment building there was a Catholic convent, and I spied on the veil-less nuns frolicking in the grass, through the knot-hole in our wooden fence…my grandmother from the Soviet Union gave us sips of vodka from bottles blessed by her Orthodox Catholic parish priest…I carried wooden rosary beads, “blessed by the Pope,” wherever I went…I stopped what I was doing at high noon to say three Hail, Mary’s for the Angelus…when I served Mass in real churches, I wished someday I would be able to say my own Masses, and I studied carefully the habits of all priests…I confessed my sins at least once a week…I got my Catholic throat blessed every year on St. Blaise’s Day…each Ash Wednesday I went to school with a black-gray spot on my Catholic forehead…I worked cleaning altar rails and altar steps and bronze flower pots and other Catholic accruements in the sacristy and, one day, when a nun dropped a 24-hour glass vigil candle on the floor and screamed SHIT!!!, I ran home, in a state of shock, anxious to tell my mother what the Dominican nun had blurted out in church…I filched un-consecrated hosts, ate them by the handfuls, and washed them down with what was left at the bottoms of discarded vin santo bottles…I said the Catholic “grace” before meals to thank God for what had been put on the plate before me…our insurance agent was Catholic…the man who mended my shoes was Catholic…I went on summer vacations to my relatives’ homes scattered about the United States and went to their Catholic churches on Sundays…I went to see films only after checking out, in The Tablet, whether or not they were good for me to see…I took home Catholicly-blessed palms on Palm Sunday…I had sport shirts with the names of Catholic universities printed on them…when I served Catholic funeral Masses, I listened to the Dies Irae sang so sadly in the choir loft…I put extra charcoals in the thurible so that the church would fill up with bellows of smoke from Catholicly-blessed incense…I knew well the smells of nuns and their freshly-starched Catholic habits and their soapy skins…I knew the sound of their huge black Catholic rosary beads rattling as they walked…I knew, too, the blackness of Catholic priests-their black cars, their black bags, their black socks, their black suits, their black pens, their black hats, their black pipes, their black luggage…I smiled when I saw “black” priests turned into “green” priests in the Army…I made three-day Catholic retreats far from my home…I bought Catholic birthday gifts for my friends…I collected holy pictures and could not wait to go to another wake and add to my collection-just as other kids collected baseball cards…when I watched the N.B.A. basketball games on TV, I looked for those players who had attended Catholic universities…my mother always pointed out to me who the Catholic actors or actresses were on TV…books with Catholic themes were on our book shelves at home…I wore something green on St. Patrick’s Day every year…we had plastic holy water fonts posted near the entrances of our bedrooms…Catholic music, Catholic games, Catholic clubs, Catholic liquors, Catholic boxes for the poor…Catholic jokes…Catholic prayer books…Catholic Bibles…Catholic policemen…Catholic firemen…Catholic mailmen and mailwomen…Catholic funeral parlors…Catholic plays…Catholic films…CATHOLIC! CATHOLIC!! CATHOLIC!!! AMEN!!!!!!!!
The Second Tyranny of a Majority
The Machinations of a Vile Stupidity
November, 1967. On the Cambodian-Laotian borders. As much as it was the United States Army’s intention to bomb to smithereens and defoliate the leaves away of the Vietnamese countryside with the excuse of clearing large segments of land so that the country could be rid of those “commie gook bastards” from the north of Vietnam, too much of the beauty of what was once Indo-China remained to remind one that this potential breadbasket of the world or offshore goldmine of petroleum deposits-which of the two suited one’s fancy?-was in fact a luscious green paradise of richly luxurious mountains, valleys, coastlines, rivers, forests and hamlets.
In the mosquito-infested Central Highlands, adjacent to Cambodia and Laos, a mountain range of green splendor greeted the sightseer in the air and on the ground. The views were often breathtakingly seductive, and the serenity of the area made for a pleasant break from army bases, fire bases, forts, base camps, terminals and compounds. As one trekked through the “boonies” there was the overpowering feeling that vacation time had come round once again. The pleasantries of the beautiful woodlands instilled in one a distinct presentiment of peacefulness. Butterflies-an enormous range of colors characterizing their diverse species-crowded pathways hacked away by machete-bearing pointmen. Birds chirped away in treetops and reminded one of agreeable moments had in one’s youth during springtime strolls through shaded timberlands with the loved one-hand in hand. There was that matchless sound of bacon and eggs-traded, if not robbed, from local Montagnard villagers-crackling on a frying pan over an early-morning fire, the aroma scenting its way through trees and bushes into two-man hootches where rested soldiers recharged by a ten-hour sleep on an army-issue gray air mattress turned over to reach for the first butt of the day and stalled, in a lazy, contented way, the beginning of a day’s march up the side of a comely mountain.
Canteens were filled with fresh, diseased-free water from tributaries which had directed the cool refreshment for miles over rocks and through vegetation effecting Nature’s own purifying process and ridding one of the need to plunk iodine tablets into canteens and then, to kill the taste, slide in cherry-flavored KOOL-AID granules, pre-sweetened, P-L-E-A-S-E!!! from the funneled edges of those small, pre-packed envelopes. Canteen cups were used to boil hot water for shaving, and steel-potted helmets served as washbasins into which soapy razor blades were dunked to make ready the next scrape to the chin.
C-ration cans were heated over small blue pellet heating tabs-yells going up in quest of an extra can of peaches, or “Who likes ham and lima beans? (no one), I’ll trade you for a spiced beef.” When breakfast was completed, packs-some weighing eighty pounds with mortar rounds, M-60 ammo belts, and prick-9 radio batteries busting a man’s back-were hoisted to fit a very neat position, rifles were grabbed, helmets were arranged at their most comfortable tilt, and pistol belts with loaded canteens and ammo pouches were clicked into place. The “humping” was begun.
One looked up to the verdant mountain and was discouraged by its imposing height. The moans and groans once expelled, the men went about their hiking first considering it to be a chore, then looking to what good could come from it. A bamboo pit viper or two wiggled and glided on the roots of a huge tree. Every month or so, a python to catch and wrestle with in patches of grass-machete-bearing soldiers on guard to prevent strangulations. Wild water buffalo were avoided altogether, when not shot, because they were too vicious and unpredictable in their behavior. No one appreciated the trouble leeches brought, and in certain areas, especially where the soil was unusually rich and moist and ensconced from adequate air circulation by ravines, heavy underbrush or land depressions, the leeches seemed to cultivate exceedingly well requiring us to douse our boots with mosquito repellent to keep them from crawling up our legs into our crotches.
It was gratifying to walk into a friendly village without going in to destroy it and find villagers hard at work building homes or preparing meals for their families. And if the inhabitants were not frightened by our presence-all the better. G. I.’s teased and playacted with the tribe. Gifts might be exchanged. C-rations might be tossed to scrounging kids begging for food. A charred- wood smell was diffused throughout the village. Bare-breasted women, nipples chunky and firm, cradled children in their arms possessing them maternally and offering protection to them from the unstableness of an army which offered them food by day but at night might bomb them to bits and pieces. There was no promise of peace and quiet for these people and their country set in political turmoil for decades. The village now became a memory to the soldier’s past.
The company pushed on farther to a night position where foxholes might be dug and artillery defensive concentrations were certain to kindle small brush fires and intimidate neighboring villagers. The security of the night perimeter was much like the fetal posture. The unit drew itself into itself and felt safe when it covered its head and body with the security blanket of a circular encampment, with guards watching over it through the night, with radio contact for any emergency, with men well-armed and fortified with a filling dinner, with an air force at their beck and call, with helicopter gunships to whip in and out to sting an attacking enemy.
The moon lit the night. Radios blared, portable record players played popular music. Chats abounded within the boundary of the secured area. Chinese communist disc-jockeys beamed romantic soul music, but G. I.’s ignored their political messages happy to hear familiar tunes from back home. Chilled winds blew in the later part of the day and early part of the evening, and it was cozy to squat into one’s hootch constructed of two rain ponchos and there position oneself in the center of the blown-up air mattress-its rubber aroma floating up to be whiffed at throughout the night. The body was tired, aching. Yet, it was firm, resilient from the suffering it was being put through. It did not take long to fall asleep. One might go to catch Z’s earlier than usual hoping that the hootchmate one was assigned to would not enter during an ecstatic masturbation taken under a poncho liner.
There were other comforts. A good book; a re-read of the letters from home; the latest issue of Playboy to escape from reality; a good cigar; the knowledge that the M-16 had been cleaned earlier that day; and, dry, clean socks.
At night, when the noise of one hundred and twenty men abated, one set off to sleep listening to the sounds of the jungle: its animals, its trees swishing in the wind, its own powerful presence occasionally disturbed by the clock-clocking of a Huey or the explosion of an harassment and interdiction artillery round sounding off in the distance with a tremendous pounding to the ground. Nature, in its beauty and splendor, was too strong even for the United States Army which, while despoiling and B-52-bombing It, could not take away the time which would come to replenish It in all Its green brilliance and vitality.
Always a strict creature, Nature was even severer in Vietnam. For all the punishment it had inflicted upon it, it parcelled out its own. Nature knew it would survive, yet it yielded high malarial temperatures. It slapped down villagers and soldiers with tuberculosis, cholera and typhus. Its billowy, dark clouds-bulging their way through the skies-dropped oceans of rain on roads muddying them, on bodies diseasing them, on fighter bombers grounding them. When the clouds full of rain scattered at the end of their season, the hot sun came to parch throats and cake roads to a powdery dust which blew in the faces of men and clogged the oil-smooth-running machinery of the world’s most powerful army.
The Sun to the east, the Sun to the west. It was magnificent in the morning warming the body after a chilled sleep. At dusk, it set behind gorgeous mountains, its flare lighting up the skies in posh hues of red, orange, blue white and purple. Cirrus, cirrostratus, cirrocumulus and altostratus clouds beamed dazzling colors bounced off them by that sinking luminous celestial body around which the Earth and other planets revolve, from which they receive heat and light, which has a mean distance from Earth of 93,000,000 miles, a linear diameter of 864,000 miles, a mass 332,000 times grander than Earth, and a mean density about one-fourth that of Earth.
I fantasized a champagne breakfast at sunrise in St. Augustine on Florida’s east coast, and a seafood platter feast at sunset in Cedar Key on Florida’s west coast. The Vietnam experience would not always be with us, but the Sun would be. And what a gracious, friendly Sun! The company is drenched with gallons of monsoon rain when then, and only then, the Sun pops out to steam heat away soaking helmet camouflage covers, waterlogged fatigues, and sloshing wet boots-those boots Nancy Sinatra keeps reminding us, as if we did not know, were made for none other than walking!
The chill leaves the body when the heat rays of the Sun pierce their way through army-issued green santeen duds. The body becomes dry again. Sweat begins to seep through the fine pores and small openings of the body’s protective garments. The Colt Rifle Company’s famous-but overrated-M-16 is speckled with reddish brown rust particles which will be removed easily with tiny cloth patches sopped with cleaning oil, one each, for external use only.
The humping assumes a new, refreshed mood. Stomachs are beginning to growl from the extra duty imposed on the digestive system to keep the body pushing on through draughty rains and hot Sun. One must now seek shade from the midday Sun under whose torrid warmth lunch will be taken. The rucksack is tossed to the base of a tree, the helmet plunked down on the ground, the rifle put to the side close at hand, the pistol belt is unlatched, the canteen reached for with both hands in a caressing gesture and swigs are had from the olive drab plastic container which holds that precious liquid refreshment more pretentious than a good bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
A pleasant intermission comes to us. Within the inventory of the Universe there is a large stream one-hundred meters from our lunch break position, and our company commander has “tender-heartedly” given us permission to bathe and wash clothes in the shadiness of the spread of a richly-vegetated idyllic forest scene. The winsomeness of the area is incomparable. Trees and colourful shrubs abound. The current flows coolly and its sparkling, crystal-clear waters lower the body temperature and revive the mind to make it as translucent and alive as the colorless, glass-like surface of the charging brook. The spirit of the men becomes brisk. There is horseplay. There is fun. The only grim reminder of the war is the five naked guards who have been placed on duty to protect the splashing, frolicking infantrymen. Soap suds begin to dull the upper boundary of the stream as men scrub at socks and fatigue shirts and their very own bodies. More than a hundred nudes. There is little modesty, shame. The release from the oppressing load of the rucksack has encouraged all of us to forget our slavery and enjoy, as much as we can, this little grab at joy. There is no bitching when the call to regroup is made. The men want to savor this encounter with Nature for at least the rest of the day, and rather than fight or pick at their plight, they permit their disciplined bodies and minds to respond automatically-involuntarily-to the command of that army they disrespect and despise. The rucksack, harnessed to strong backs for the umpteenth time, feels lighter than was once imagined in the frigid waters of the river.
The men head out, in single file, in silent resolve. Whatever their thoughts are, they are private, intense. The men intertwine with Nature. They have taken comfort from Nature’s powerful ability to stand and endure. They look up to the blue and know that those fluffy white cottony nebulas will turn blackish gray by late afternoon and pour down huge droplets of water condensed from vapor in the boundless atmosphere which infiltrates the Vietnamese countryside, the hearts and minds of all men and women and even the United States Army. They look to the ground and sense the firmness of the Earth-its hardened exterior always waiting to take without recoil or echo the hammering of that steel-plated-in-the-sole jungle boot, two each, green-canvassed at their sides. Soldiers look to the right, to the left. There are only green trees and lush jungle bushes to catch the eye. The company has reached a level of Platonic Transcendentalism. They have superseded, for a short time, the yoke of their own inhibiting prejudices and the preconceived judgements of others, and in unity, the fellowship of infantry fight specialists have intuited the truth about their fellow man and have felt, while not intellectualising it, the value of virtuous conduct. Chained to their rocks as Prometheus, the “grunts” have begun to stop warring with their oppressors. They have taken the steps to understand and pity them. They have found hope in the possibility of a better order of Life, and they have sought, through the simplicity of Nature, to seek peace and good will among all men on Earth without recrimination and penalty.
Into this serene milieu is plopped the battalion’s number one beer delivery man who is making his weekly rounds around the battalion’s area of operations. The company knows the clock-clocking helicopter is the command and control Huey of Light Bird Colonel, on the Full Bird Promotion List, Husky because it is clean, spirals from a three-thousand-foot height in order to avoid small arms fire, and it has been some time since our unit’s shining bright, spit-shined-booted, with-fatigues-starched commander has been out to the twigs for a visit. The touching Shelleyan slumber of the “grunts” has been dissipated into the atmosphere-perhaps forever-by this hideous intrusion.
The company guesses at what its battalion’s chief buffoon has up his olive drab sleeves for tricks and treats this fine sweltering day, and there is immeasurable glee immediately when, to everyone’s delight, as Husky disembarks from his landed Huey and charges forward to greet his company commander and infantry puppets, he trips over a tree stump, scuffs his mirrored boots, and is caught from a fall to the ground-not smooth and boarded as is his comfy Tactical Operations Center-by his ass-kissing, permanently-fixed-to-his-left-side battalion executive officer. Husky is amazed with himself and vents his anger at once at his Bravo Company commanding officer explaining to him that his men should have cleared away the Landing Zone more carefully-what, captain, would have happened if a Combat Assault was to have been executed on that L. Z. and an artillery forward observer had seriously injured himself on that tree stump incapacitating his ability to bring smoke and pee on an attacking enemy? To wit, the company commander: “I am sorry, sir, for that indiscretion. I can assure you, sir, there will be no reoccurrence of it in the future.”
“Very well, captain. Report!”
Husky has slipped back to the very reason he came to the field. The company commander snaps to, readies himself to present his report, and whips a flashy salute on Husky. The comedy continues.
“Captain, I have repeatedly told you, and every other god-damned company commander in this outfit, that I do not want to be made conspicuous in the field by having officers and enlisted men salute me. I don’t want to be a target for Charlie any more than I have to be. Do you understand, you god-damned little idiot?”
“Yes, sir! That indiscretion will never reoccur in the future.”
There are giggles and gawky looks throughout the company area. Everyone knows the Vietcong and the Northvietnamese Army have been monitoring Husky’s inept operations for months and have conspired to let Husky live until he is promoted to Army Chief of Staff-who needs friends with enemies like this.
“Proceed with your report, captain.”
“Sir, the enemy situation is complicated and peculiar. We have out-maneuvered and outflanked the aggressors with your stylised…”
“Captain, I don’t want to hear your highfalutin excuses for not giving me bodies,” Husky shrills aloud in the woods for all within a thousand meters to hear.
“Sir, the indiscretion will never occur in the future.”
“Captain, are you some kind of a god-damned idiot? Stop that indiscretion shit now!”
“Sir, the indis…Yeeees, SSSSSSiiiiiirrrrrr!”
“Captain, to date your unit is deficient. You have the highest foot-wound (“The Million-Dollar Wound”) casualty rate in the whole god-damned army, you haven’t had a body for me in four weeks, and you are slow getting to your positions. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“…I’ll tell you what you have to say for yourself, captain. You have to say that you are a complete idiot. You have to say you are not doing your job. You have to say that your next efficiency report is going to look mighty shitty if you don’t shape up soon!”
“Do not sir me. I want action, I want bodies ! Go to it, my man.”
“I want to talk with your men.”
The company commander kowtows and pays homage and droops his body and bends hither and tither to lead the way for Husky to his men who are assembled in small groups in the distance talking about their recent spiritualistic reunion with Nature. Husky comes upon the men-both arms filled with cold beer cans.
“Got something for you “gook” killers! Feast your eyes on these cold cans of suds, boys. I’m the only battalion commander in Vietnam willing to break regulations for his men and bring them ice-cold suds to the field.”
Husky’s favorable opinion of himself falls on deaf ears. The men want the suds.
“What do you think about that, private?”
Husky has happed upon California Dreamer, the unit’s philosopher of Nature.
“Sir, have you ever thought about Nature and what a satisfying experience it is to walk among the trees and mountains and streams?”
Husky’s eyes bulge with astonishment. He has been taken unawares.
“I-I, yes I have, son.”
Husky thinks he is dealing with a nut case.
“Were you inspired, colonel?”
“I guess I was, I…son, we are here to fight a war. I don’t see what Nature has to do with that.”
“I do, sir.”
“…son…Major, take this man to my C&C ship and wait for me there.”
Husky does not want to enter into a philosophical debate, nor does he wish to have his men’s minds poisoned with stuff he knows might turn out to be commie or anti-army.
“Men, I wish to make a point or two very clear to you.”
Husky is gearing up for an army Sermon on the
Mount, but his mind is abruptly torn between risking the use of California Dreamer as an example of what not to think in Vietnam-thereby alienating his men-or proceeding to follow through on his hip-shooting hunch that he can make interesting hay out of the situation and make an example of the philosopher of Nature who obviously challenged his ideas, who obviously challenged his authority. Naturally, Husky shot from the hip-his way of doing everything. The moral homily continued.
“The United States Army is the toughest, best-equipped army in the world. It is not a candy-assed outfit, and it is not a pack of Boy Scouts on its way to an overnight cookout.”
He points to the hills of Cambodia and Laos.
“In those hills are commies. God-damned little fucking slanty-eyed bastard commies. And they are out to kill your fucking asses, boys. They are out to subjugate and subterfuge the American system of democracy. They are out to take your beer from you.”
Husky is rolling along. The class clown has become the class valedictorian.
“They are out to, god-damn those bastards, seduce and abuse your mothers, wives and girlfriends. The commies are smart little fuckers. Don’t underestimate them. They are willing to walk the long mile to get their way, and they will take all the time they need to do it. They are waiting in those hills. They are waiting for you to drop your guard, to leave yourself open for that one-two, under-the-belt punch. They want to box you into a corner. Men, Husky is here to prove to them otherwise. And the way we will show those gook bastards that we will not stand for their commie shit is the way your old man Husky is going to show you how to fight this war. But, men, I can’t do it without you. I can’t do it when you let your guard down. If you spend your day looking at trees and pretty flowers and not looking for Charlie, you are doing yourself a disservice, you are doing your nation a disservice, you are doing Husky a disservice. For God’s sake, boys, watch out for those commie bastards. Don’t let them catch you with your pants down. Be on your toes. Keep your rifles clean, walk five meters apart, search the areas you are passing through, take your malaria pills, and for God’s sake, boys, stop shooting yourselves in the god-damned feet! I have an incentive for you. For every gook or AK-47 a Bravo Company grunt brings me, there are two quart bottles of Seagrams-7 waiting back in Bravo Charlie. Bring me bodies. Husky wants bodies, men. I need a high body count. I want to keep those god-damned commies from infiltrating into our country-the home of the free, the home of the brave. Go get ’em, boys!!!”
Husky’s moral discourse made little impression on the men. There were mumblings in the crowd mostly over the whisky bribe.
“Let me hear it, gook killers!”
The “grunts'” minds reminisced to happier (?) days at Fort Benning, Georgia and their instructors’ commands to scream out a vociferous chain of crescendoing “KILL, KILL, KILL, KILL, KILL, KILL, KILL, KILL, KILL, KILL!” Their response to Husky’s request was made with fizzling “kills,” and Husky had to encourage them with his own sparked, enthusiastic “kill.”
“K!” he screeched out suddenly at the top of his lungs waking up the most sullen grunt from his cosmic reveries.
“Give me ‘KILLS,’ gook killers!!!”
“Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill.”
They came in increased pitch and quality. Not Fort Benning perfect, but loud enough to satisfy Husky.
Husky turned, muttered something to his executive officer who had returned to hear the remonstrance, and then they both walked back to Husky’s C&C ship where the Spreader of the Word met California Dreamer and told him he was being sent to the division’s psychiatric unit for observation.
The Third Tyranny of a Majority
The Sustenance of White Ascendancy in the Sunshine State
In Pleiku-in the early part of 1968-Staff-sergeant Jimmy Gibbs, the Fourth Division’s
Perpetrator of Logistical Evil Deeds and Supply Naughties, par excellence, sat with his feet on his desk, a bottle of bourbon close at hand, and told me, frankly, I was a “P.I.” (Poppa India; Political Influence), a cog in the Army’s Wheel. I was one who would be taken care of by being ignored and placed in positions where I could not have the chance to skip to promotion slots which might aid my Army career which, according to Sergeant Gibbs, I probably did not give a shit about anyway because I would not have written-if I did care-to the President of the United States, that home-boy commander-in-chief of the United States Army, one Lyndon B. Johnson, simply asking him why Jacqueline Kennedy was vacationing in Angor Watt, Cambodia while my men and I were digging foxholes on the country’s border-later sneaking in at night; and, wondering why the Secretary of Defence, Robert McNamara, would relinquish his defense post mid-stream a war (“Mr. President, may I do the same?).
“So…sit back and relax, lieutenant, you’ve been taken out of the field probably for the rest of your tour, you’re now a base camp warrior, you can make a lot of extra money here helping me in my supply business, and there is plenty of booze and shrimp and fresh eggs and steak and sack time for you in our specially-constructed clubhouse where we have a mid-afternoon cocktail party every day and today you will be the guest of honor and will be welcomed into our unit, you, the new Fourth Division Replacement Detachment’s Property Book Officer, and me, your supply sergeant, we will have a great time together-have another drink!-I think I’m going to like you even though you are an officer and a goddamn nigger-loving and Jew-loving Yankee from New York at that! Ha! Ha!! Ha!!!”
Gibbs was southern Georgia cracker rebel and a foxy character whose mind could compute numbers with the whiz-bang efficiency of a pocket calculator. Had this Georgian farm boy been born in Yankee territory, he might have passed through university unto graduate school on to a successful Wall Street career in the business world-his mind was indeed incredibly sharp and his knack for mathematics was astonishing. This ability was coupled with a unique penchant for common sense which made Sergeant Gibbs wiser than his thirty-five years.
Like many other “lifers” in the Army, Gibbs had a serious drinking problem; he started each morning with the gulping down of the LISTERINE mouthwash he had just gargled and swished around his tongue, gums and teeth. It was Gibbs’s sunrise cocktail, and the jolt of LISTERINE put Gibbs on the oblique path to that extra $2000 a month (“chicken feed”) he was swindling in the replacement detachment.
Gibbs thought he was so deserving of his extra $2000 that had he made a penny less of it, he would have retired from the “goddamn fucking United States Army” and gone back to hauling moonshine for his brother who, boy, was making a pretty buck in them thar hills-you bet!
Gibbs’s philosophy was simple: Everyone is stealing-so will I. No doubt about it; no pangs of conscience. With that rationale, Gibbs offered himself a free pass to cheat, embezzle and cook property books so that they looked clean and spiffy at inspection time after his pilferages. Gibbs lived in a little world of graft and corruption, and he insisted that he get his piece of the Vietnam pie before the politicians gobbled it all up.
While one would rate Gibbs low on any scale which gauged conformity to those ideals of right human conduct, he did not stoop to Husky’s depraved state and use his men or innocent civilians as cannon fodder to further his political ambitions. Gibbs preferred to keep a low profile, and he cared less whether the Army wanted to promote him or not. In fact, he did not want to be advanced in rank because he would have to have all his uniforms re-sewn with new rank insignia and such an inconvenience would cause him time and money. The Army’s Gibbs had gravitated to E-6, staff sergeant level, supply sergeant, and it was there he wanted to cushion himself for the rest of his career which was concerned principally with fingering as much as he could in twenty short Army years.
He maneuvered furtively. His modus operandi was to befriend each and every supply sergeant in the United States Army-all over the world. Supply sergeants comprised a fraternity of crooks, and when they met in mess halls for coffee and doughnuts with friendly mess sergeants-heavyset members of another supply guild of E-6 frauds-the occasion was characterized by wheelings and dealings that would have made any cell of organized criminals gloat with delight causing their members to scratch their itchy palms. The brotherliness of supply sergeants was not fixed in the bosom of the Army. The Navy, Air Force and Marines were all connected affectionately. These loving souls, proud and shameless, claimed that they kept their respective services functioning by using to their best advantage their uncanny abilities to see through to the heart of any supply matter which ordinarily was confused by inordinate paperwork that delayed delivery of military goods to those in need of them.
Supply sergeants were specialists who ventured beyond the jumble and fastidiousness of complex service requirements and regulations in order to make things happen for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, themselves and, every so often, for the grunt in the field who was given what was left over once business deals were sealed and delivered.
Gibbs was an acknowledged con artist and respected by other supply sergeants who often went to him for his daft advice for juggling books and receipts. The fraternity worked well by exchanging favors or surplus or stolen commodities-one for another. A neo-renaissance of the bartering system. Merchandise was often sold, on demand, to whomever-friendlies or enemies-wanted it. A case of whisky was always good for lumber from the Air Force. Boxes of steak got cement from the Engineer Corps for Husky’s pool. Sundry packs allocated for use by field personnel were exchanged for the services of French-Vietnamese prostitutes from Saigon who were transported north to division headquarters in Red Cross uniforms. The network was well-connected and proficient. There were oodles of money to make, and service goodies were in demand all over the country.
With $150 billion hyped into the Vietnam effort to buffer the world recession of the early 1960s, the supply sergeants’ fraternity was in a constant state of glee-the financial opportunities often boggling the mind. Business was so good, supply sergeants often paid their way to get re-ups for additional duty in the Vietnam graft palace. They performed their services with aplomb and very often with a sense of loyalty akin to a Mafia chieftain’s fidelity to his family.
If the Fourth Division’s commanding general wanted sheets for his double bed, he got them. If “B” Battery’s supply sergeant was short a jeep or two when inspection rolled around, he got them. If a colonel was short grated rind and cognac for his crepe suzettes party, he got them. The more difficult the challenge, the faster it seemed the goodies appeared. Supply sergeants had a reputation to keep and pulling hard-to-come-by merchandise out of their olive drab provisions’ hats, afforded them fame throughout the supply room world of the worldwide corrupt United States Army.
Being the Fourth Division’s Replacement Detachment Property Book officer, the “P.B.O.,” did not mean I had any rights to run my unit as I was trained to do so in three short hours during a “block” of supply instruction at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. It was understood that lieutenants were stupid and while we were responsible for every item on the property books when we signed for them and “owned” them until transfer was made to the next P.B.O., there was no sense in offering concern when Sergeant Gibbs traded a truck or two for a howitzer his friend needed after he lost his own when it fell from a Chinook helicopter on its way to a new fire base. My job was a formality. I sat at my desk all day reading or practicing my typing, and to every piece of paper, carbon-copied five times, that passed over my desk, I scribbled my name without even looking at what I was signing. It was hopeless to attempt to know what was going on, and if I did, I would have to court-martial Sergeant Gibbs as a simple matter of principle. And I did not want to do that.
Gibbs and I had become friends. I kept comparing him to Husky-Gibbs a resounding lesser of two evils. As close as any officer and non-commissioned officer dared to get, we got. We drank whisky together, we talked long hours about Georgia and New York and Vietnam. Gibbs filled me with homespun advice about the Army and life and the twelve-year jump on life he had on me, offered many intelligent tips about economics and business dealings for myself and my family if ever I had one. As much as Gibbs was a crook, he was a nice one. I had to admire his determination and verve. If he was going to be a crook, he was going to be the best crook in the United States Army! If it was everyone’s business to steal, he would do it better. Gibbs was an artist. He did what he did because he loved its labor for its own sake.
“Which brings me, lieutenant, to a very important point I want to make with you. You managed to con your way out of the field by writing a letter to the President of the United States.”
“Hold it, Gibbs. It wasn’t my intention to “con” my way out of the field, and it wasn’t my idea to suggest to Jackie Kennedy that she visit Cambodia during the Vietnam conflict.”
“It’s the obvious question to ask you, lieutenant.”
“It’s none of your business what I write to Johnson about. Why are you so concerned about my motives? Are you a snitcher?”
“I’m not,” scoffed Gibbs.
“I’ll never know.”
“You can trust me, lieutenant.”
“Gibbs, you’re a damned lifer no matter what you say,” I joshed back at him.
“Relax, lieutenant. I want to put some cards on the table for you and help you out. That’s all. And I need your help. I’m here-I’m in the Army-to make money. There is a great deal of it sloshing around loosely, and I’m up to $2000 already above each monthly take-home check I get. I can do more, and I expect to. But I need someone to help me, someone intelligent enough to handle the paperwork in this unit and keep on top of the regulations which are always coming from Washington to screw up what would otherwise be a smooth-running operation….”
“No. I’m not interested. I’m not going to join in on your crap game, sergeant.”
“Let me finish, lieutenant.”
“No. It smells. As long as there are people dying in this shit, I am not going to contribute to its fucking functioning.”
“Lieutenant, what right have you to be a moralist?”
“I enjoy being a novelty, Gibbs! But don’t put words in my mouth. I am not a moralist. I am an intelligentist! What I see is stupidity-not morality. I have no right to be a moralist and I don’t want to be one. I enjoy being an intelligentist! I enjoy being different! If it’s so easy to steal, the money ought to be spread to other causes…like feeding hungry people or getting them to stop producing like rabbits or spending it on…”
“…like spending it on liberal shit that gets us into these messes?”
“Gibbs, look, I don’t know who or what causes these so-called “messes.” And I am not interested. The liberals and the conservatives, Democrats and Republicans are capable of doing everything but what is intelligent. I’m just a pawn in an international rackets game.”
“Do you know why we are in Vietnam?”
“No, I don’t, Gibbs. It has to be for the wrong reasons, I presume.”
“Oil in the South China Sea.”
“Not food? I thought Vietnam was the Breadbasket of the World?”
“I thought lieutenants had at least one ounce of common sense in them. There are supposed to be enormous reserves of oil in the South China Sea. We need that oil to keep prices down and reserves high.”
“Gibbs, what the fuck do I care about oil. No matter what it is for, oil or food, it still falls under the heading of economic exploitation, and that-if you didn’t know it-is very, very stupid!”
“Lieutenant, why don’t you take your piece of it and keep your big, fat mouth shut?-with all due respect, sir! I mean, who do you think you are, anyway?”
“Because, Gibbs, I am not an ass. I don’t believe that because everyone else is doing it I should, too!”
“But don’t you think you owe it to your family? To afford them security?”
“Yes. But I don’t have to do it by stealing.”
“Look, lieutenant, the world is in deep economic trouble. Our being in Vietnam proves that. We’re heading for an international economic crisis and you owe it to yourself to get into a position where you won’t be found with your pants down when the crunch comes.”
“Gibbs, how do you know about world economic crises? Are you a stock broker, too?”
“I have friends on Wall Street. I read up on the economy when I can.”
“You don’t sound like an expert. Have your contacts concluded disaster?”
“No. But they cannot afford to. It would be bad for business.”
“You mean they lie like the Army does?”
“Lieutenant, there is a fleet of forty ships tied up between Camh Ranh Bay and the United States doing nothing but sitting and earning money because Uncle Sam requisitioned its services to keep it from going bankrupt. The whole of Vietnam is an investment in the United States of America and its allies. It is a $150 billion boost to a declining world economy.”
“Lieutenant, I am offering you a chance to make good money. Take it or leave it. Take $25,000 or $30,000 extra for a year’s work in Southeast Asia. I’m not going to beg you.”
“Gibbs, what are you up to here? I’m terribly curious.”
“My game is working the economy in Pleiku with other supply sergeants. I have the laundry and taxi concessions in town, and the others share the booze joints, whorehouses, surplus stores, fuel stops, and other profitable ventures we have invested in. I own twenty five three-wheeled LAMBRETTA taxi scooters which serve not only downtown Pleiku, but the surrounding cities within a fifty-mile radius. My laundries keep fatigues cleaned and starched. Labor is cheap, as you might have imagined, the profits are good, as you might have imagined, and I pay the Vietcong off to keep their mitts off my businesses.”
“You pay the V. C. off?”
“I pay them for protection just like shopkeepers pay the cops off in your nigger Harlem slums, lieutenant!”
“You are conspiring with the Vietcong when you know there are men out in the boonies dying?”
“Lieutenant, I don’t wish to see men dying in the boonies. If I knew my businesses were causing deaths, I would get out of this. But I think I am doing more to keep men from dying than I am causing them to die. I’m not the only one making money. The Vietnamese never had it so good. They have food, equipment and advice. Things they never had before. They are kept busy, and they are learning the first principles of capitalism-crude principles, granted, but they have to start somewhere and anywhere is better than communism.”
“Gibbs, I don’t believe they want it.”
“Lieutenant, they don’t know what they want. All they know is their mouths are being fed more than ever before, and a pair of boots, a fatigue cap, a canteen…”
“…a rifle, a hand grenade, a .45 pistol, a mortar tube…”
“…a job in the mess hall, a job filling sandbags, medical attention.”
“That’s very nice, Gibbs. It really is. I’m touched. But couldn’t it have been done under another pretext? I mean one which doesn’t wreak so disgustingly of greed?”
“Greed is the human condition, lieutenant.”
“So accept it.”
“No. Believe it or not, I am not greedy. An extra $40,000 or $50,000 from this tour will satisfy me a lot. I know how far I can push myself without getting into trouble. Some of my friends don’t, unfortunately, and they are going to spoil a good thing for a lot of people if they don’t be careful.”
“You mean your fat friend with the big gold watch in the P. X.?”
“Yes. That sergeant-major is being watched carefully. He’s trying to DEROS with more than $500,000, but I don’t think he will make it. And his C. O., too. That captain in charge of the
“Who is going to arrest them? J. Edgar Hoover?”
“No. You aren’t going to steal a million without a lot of people who want to steal a million knowing about it. There is honor among thieves-or should I say pride and jealousy!-which keeps checks on those of us who are on the opposite side of your intelligent-stupid fence, lieutenant.”
“Well, Gibbs, perhaps that is what it all boils down to anyway. The side of the fence one is on. You are trying to pull me to your side of the fence, sergeant. I’ve never been there, and you might be right that there is no risk involved and that I could get home free with an extra $25,000 or $30,000. But it is not what I think I should do for a number of stupid and cultural reasons which I suppose you will never be able to understand. I’m not going to try to change your ways of trying to earn money. And you will not continue bugging me with your thoughts about what is intelligent for me, either. Let us respect one and other in at least this regard. I think you are stupid as much as you think I am stupid! It’s a Mexican stand-off, Sergeant Gibbs!”
“I’m sorry you don’t trust me, lieutenant. $30,000 is a lot of money.”
“So is the $4,000 I will take home legally with a peaceful mind.”
“It’s not just the money, lieutenant. It’s your pride.”
“My pride! No, not my pride. My peace of mind! That’s more important to me than money!”
“Lieutenant, have another drink. I will accept your dumb decision not to take my offer.”
“Gibbs, don’t be so arrogant. You have no choice. Don’t bug me about it again. Understand? I just want to get out of Vietnam in one piece-just like everyone else in the Fourth Division who isn’t stealing money.”
“Now that you are in base camp, lieutenant, the chances for that have been increased for you 1,000%. Thanks to Jacqueline Kennedy!”
“Ha, ha, Gibbs. I never thought they would have taken me out of the field.”
“Cheers to Jacqueline Kennedy. Lieutenant, you should go and marry her!”
“Do you think I could rob enough money from the Fourth Division’s Replacement Division to marry Jackie Kennedy?”
“I could get you started, lieutenant! It won’t be long before you will be home again.”
“That is comforting in one sense, sergeant. But when I say I want to get out of Vietnam I also mean I want to get out of the uniform of the United States Army. I’ve never before been associated with such a corrupt, bankrupt, stupid organization. It makes me sick to my stomach.”
I got up to go to the door.
“One more thing, lieutenant,” Gibbs fired rapidly.
“There will be an offensive rolling around shortly. Watch out. My V. C. intelligence says there will be coordinated attacks throughout our area of operations. A lot of higher-ups are putting in for R&Rs so they are out of country when the assaults take place. May I get you an extra R&R?”
“What do you mean, sergeant?”
“I mean that if you want to be out of Vietnam on vacation when the shit hits the fan, I will get you an R&R-my compliments!”
“There will be attacks and higher knows about it?”
“They are planning it now with the enemy, lieutenant!”
“You are full of shit, sergeant.”
“I am not full of shit, lieutenant.”
“You are joking.”
“I am not joking. The American people are screaming for bodies to prove we are really fighting a war here and not spending their tax money on whores. The press has even said we have it too easy here.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Lieutenant, divide dollars spent on war effort by enemy killed in war effort. You know more than me how many bodies we are not collecting in the field for the war effort. Why are higher-ups bribing the troops to bring them dead bodies?”
“How would I know how many are being killed and how much is being spent in Vietnam?”
“I do, lieutenant.”
“In other words…”
“…a battle will be staged, innocent civilians, guilty enemies, and United States’ soldiers will be sacrificed to satisfy the political accountants in Washington. We’ll even get rid of a bunch of niggers, too!”
“But what a waste.”
“It’s necessary. We have to satisfy generals and Wall Street financiers. We have to push forward. Might is right.”
“It’s the American way. Bust heads and everything will fall into place. Look at World War II. We cracked a bunch of German and Jap heads in that war. Look at the people who are running this war. The same people. The same mentality. They are fighting here the way they fought during World War II. With outmoded and obsolete war ideas. The way we fought in World War II is not the way to fight in Vietnam. Our leaders, the World War II re-treads that they are, use book rules and regulations from another era. They want to shove and push against the wind. That tactic makes for big battles and for lucrative promotion opportunities-not to mention Bronze Stars, Silver Stars and Medals of Honor. But the enemy is wiser. They hit and miss, jab, retreat to their corner. They are making mincemeat out of us when they attack, and with all our firepower, they still come out with fewer casualties. We are fighting unit against man instead of man against man. It’s downright cowardly if you ask me. But that doesn’t make the enemy any more honorable. It makes him smarter. We have not learned to handle the enemy because our leaders don’t want us to defeat him. The powers to be are satisfied with the situation the way it is. If we fought properly, it would be over when we wanted it to be over-and without the use of atomic weapons. But there is too much money invested here to end it now.”
“But to kill people for it? I can’t think of anything more stupid.”
“Soldiers have to kill people otherwise they wouldn’t be soldiers. Killing people means the people have done something terribly wrong-terribly un-American-to warrant their wholesale destruction.”
“But what have the Vietnamese done?”
“Probably nothing except starve all their lives in a country that doesn’t have electricity or running water nor the other conveniences of the materialistic whirlwind the West lives in.”
“They should die for that?”
“They are dying for that like people all over the world are dying for the greed of others.”
“Look, sergeant, this is totally insane.”
“Of course, but what are you going to do about it?”
“I can’t do anything.”
“And no one wants to do anything. Oh, there are some generals who try to satisfy Washington by lying. They know what the score is here and they know Washington’s requests are ludicrous and politically motivated. That’s why they will exaggerate body counts. They are trying to keep the Pentagon and Capital Hill cool, but as time goes by-as the truth trickles out, as pressure from the American people mounts-each and every enemy body will have greater significance and the bullshit will start to dissipate into thin air. All of this depends upon the strength of the New York dollar controllers and Texas oil executives. There is nothing you can do about it, lieutenant.”
“I sure as hell don’t have to go killing people for it. That is a relief.”
“I am sure it is. Count yourself lucky for that. There are G. I.’s who will wake up to this massacre someday and the two or three thousand they saved for a car with Vietnam dollars will no longer have the conscience-buying power it did once before.”
“There is a streak of moral—–No! intelligence in you, sergeant, after all!”
“I don’t call it intelligence as you do, lieutenant. I call it my horse sense. My common sense. We are all in this mess together. Your way is to remain aloof from it; mine is to steal as much as I can before the party ends. We all will suffer in the end. Perhaps I do more than you to end the war by stealing! You wait it to an end!”
“I don’t know, sergeant. I have to think this one out more. It poses a problem for me. I can’t kill; I can’t steal. Two of the most popular things to do here in Vietnam. Both very stupid, both disgusting to me.”
“Lieutenant, you are too young to know that the world is corrupt. But you will find out that it is.”
“If that’s true, I’ve lost my virginity in Vietnam!”
“Don’t feel too badly, lieutenant. You would have lost it in New York City working as a stupid junior executive. It’s all the same shit!”
There was no way in August, 1968-“separated” from the stupid United States Army-that I was going to enter the cigar-filled, cocaine-sniffing back rooms of corporate New York, have my Roman Catholic arm twisted to march in parades organized by the Catholic Vietnam War Veterans association, and have, again, my virginity taken from me after I had once already lost it in Vietnam.
After the family’s spiritless WELCOME HOME FROM THE WAR, HERO!!! party, I literally escaped to Hollywood Hills, Florida, located between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, and began to enjoy some of the most beautiful months of my entire life keeping, always, watch over my virginity.
I collected unemployment insurance from the State of Florida, bought a RENAULT-10 economy car, and embarked on a six-month decompression period and work search with the greatest hope imaginable that I would find a good job with a newspaper or a public relations firm: my military service was finished, I was a first lieutenant on the captain’s list in the reserve, and I possessed a university degree. Who, in his right mind would not be anxious to hire me? Everyone!
I drove around southeast Florida visiting the Everglades, Key West, then went to classical music concerts in Palm Beach, drove through orange groves spread out for miles, stopped to bathe in waters along the long, eastern coast of Florida, and sucked up every minute I could the beautiful Florida sunshine not missing once the dirty, slushy-after-a-snowfall New York streets. I was in a state of joy. Vietnam was over for me, and I had returned without a scratch and certainly more convinced than ever that this life of mine was to be made by me, and if I followed in the ways of some of the jerks I had met in the United States Army, I was sure to be doomed to a life of conformity and mediocrity.
The beautiful southeast Florida did other things for me I had not enjoyed for one whole year while serving the whims of the soldier-politicians in Vietnam. A bath in a clean bathtub was a ravishment I had dreamt about for three hundred and sixty six days. A box of cigars-in the freezer of my kitchen-was at my beck and call. I had clean, fresh food to eat once again and did not have to open cans to get at it. In Hollywood Hills, I didn’t have to dig a foxhole every night. In Fort Lauderdale, I didn’t have to ride in helicopters which might be shot down. In Miami, I didn’t have to fall to the ground with a twenty-five pound rucksack on my back when a rifle cracked in the open. For a while car back-fires and small explosions shook me back to Vietnam, and my nervous system, still not “ironed out,” played tricks on me. Also, if a Huey helicopter flew overhead, its clock-clocking immediately brought me back to another time. But even these quirks melted away in my mind and accumulated themselves with the millions of others as memories of the Past. I was just too happy to be home safe and sound and I was not going to bother myself with nightmares and memories which would spoil the good time I was having and was still to have more of.
I was driving a taxi for twelve hours a day for ten days in a row, with no more unemployment insurance, no newspaper job, no public relations job, and with not an iota of hope lost when I received a letter offering me $8000 a year as a social worker in the northwest section of Fort Lauderdale with the State of Florida’s Division of Family Services. I grabbed it. Lower back pain. Accepting, I did not realize that I was again to fall into another cesspool of North American greed and corruption, and it even did not dawn on me that this job would push me finally to getting up the courage to leave the United States for good and fly eventually to Caracas, Venezuela on 31 December 1976-never to ever return to the United States again.
In February, 1971 Newsweek magazine featured a cover story: “Welfare: There Must be a Better Way,” and in it insights were evidenced corroborating the notion that welfarism was a failing United States’ system once thought to be adept at meeting the needs of the nation’s impoverished peoples.
In 1971, 13.5 million people were on welfare in the United States, and their cost, borne by the United States’ taxpayer, was set at roughly $15 billion. Large cities comprised, at that time, the greatest number of increases to the welfare rolls. And New York and California harbored one-fifth of the nation’s welfare recipients.
That same month another magazine, U .S. News and World Report, made this revelation: “Government spending on the welfare state in America has finally reached a point where it is threatening to bankrupt the States and cities, and drain the United States Treasury with chronic federal deficits for as far ahead as the budget planners can see.” Welfare was then out of control; and, no relief was in sight.
I had been plopped into this milieu of “budget stress” and “waste” and served with the Division of Family Services for two years. With all the talk of inefficiency, efficiency, high budgets, low budgets, and injustice, justice, one thing remained evident in my mind: whatever amount of money was being allocated to my mostly Afro-North-American “clients”-as we were told to refer to them-very little of that funding was being received by them. Where was it going? I only thought of what Sergeant Gibbs would have told me!
In 1971, the Division of Family Services was an organization-and I have no reason to believe that it has progressed so very much further as of today-diseased with a bureaucratic malaise that aggravated itself through the office misdeeds of inept, narrow-minded routinists. Their fear of managerial types made them perfect lackeys capable of rendering homage to the whims of politically-minded state middle management factoti.
The “fiscal conservatism,” spieled out to journalists as a way of telling taxpaying readers that real efforts were being made to reduce welfare costs, was really a false issue to keep us from doing our jobs. We were not given the means to go about helping the poor Afro-North-American in Florida and the northwest section of Fort Lauderdale, and the reason was that the racist State of Florida wanted to keep Afro-North-American clogged in their ghettos far away from white folk and white jobs. And twenty five years later, these poor souls are still light years away from being integrated into the “what’s best for whites” way of Floridian life.
The laws for racial equality which exist in Florida, and which often have to be implemented unwillingly, cosmetically by federal officials, are laws that have not much bite to them. This is so because the majority of Floridians see living with Afro-North-American as a sanction instead of a choice-a choice they would still not want to make. The hatred for Afro-North-Americans is so intense, so permeated throughout the State of Florida, it is difficult to see how progress might be made to relieve the burden of the suffering that this conflict has harnessed upon both white and Afro-North-American citizens.
And that despotism, in 1970, was best summed up by Ramsey Clark in his book Crime in America: “In every major city in the United States you will find that two-thirds of the arrests take place among only about two-percent of the population. Where is that area in every city? Well, it’s in the same place where infant mortality is four times higher than in the city as a whole; where the death rate is 25-percent higher; where life expectancy is ten years shorter; where common communicable diseases with the potential of physical and mental damage are six and eight and ten times more frequent; where alcoholism and drug addiction are prevalent to a degree far transcending that of the rest of the city; where education is poorest-the oldest school buildings, the most crowded and turbulent school rooms, the fewest certified teachers, the highest rate of dropouts; where the average formal schooling is four to six years less than for the city as a whole. Sixty-percent of the children in Watts in 1965 lived with only one, or neither, of their parents.”
In many ways, these statistics are worse in 1994. Many of us, who in 1970 knew about this, tried to help-with little success. My friends and I at the Division of Family Services had our hands tied, and we did the best we could to bring about changes. All of us knew that the State of Florida was an accomplice to the crime of keeping Afro-North-Americans in “their place,” and they did only what they had to do (little) to help those poor people pick themselves up by the bootstraps and assist them in their search for a more dignified life free from the encumbrance that keeps them in a state of despair and economic impotence.
The general unlawful activity, the social crimes, of the State of Florida’s Division of Family Services is a disgrace not only for the State of Florida, but also for the entire nation which abets the lackadaisicalness of the Division of Family Services as it skirts the issues of bringing a just and progressive form of aid to those individuals who are in need of it. New priorities need to be set; new approaches sought after. But when? But how? Little has been done since the 1970s and little is going to be done in the 1990s.
With two years in the Army and two years in the Division of Family Services on my curriculum vitae, I never thought to return to New York with my tail between my legs, but I did think that my decision to leave the United States for once and for all was all the more an imperative for me. Obviously we were incompatible!
This was an awesome settling for me and one which I did not take lightly. One which I did not jump to in a hurry-for sure. When I took off from Miami for Caracas, I looked back upon the United States as an old girlfriend I once loved but yet did not want to ever be with again. For many, many reasons I admire the United States of America. Yet, there were too many lies, too many times. I had many good times snuggled up to her bosom. With all my heart, I wish the United States all the best. And with all my heart, I hope I will never have to return to the United States ever again.
Love it or
E P I L O G U E
North American reactionaries and elite groups-opposing progress-have had too much a share of pessimism and negativism to offer their North American constituents. They have grouped together to form palsy-walsy social, cultural, economic and political ties which serve the inclusive general concept that a government should dole out political and civil honors according to wealth. The conservative is not interested in offering a fair shake to his fellow man, and he excludes him/her from his power circles with the justification that life demands a political philosophy which exalts the nation and a select group of individuals above all others, and that severe economic and social regimentation, and the forcible suppression of the opposition, are necessary measures to exercise stringent control over the masses who are considered inferior to the nobler and more privileged fuddy-duddy.
I deny this philosophy and its aspects of myopic gloom. I look for programs which show liveliness and interest in good things. Which look with hope to the future. Which signal danger, but communicate love and understanding.
“Human behavior leads to make-believe, disequilibrium, frustrations, lies, or, on the contrary, it becomes the source of rewarding experiences, in accordance with its manner of expression in actual living-whether in bad faith, laziness, generosity and freedom,” so said Simone de Beauvoir.
I wish that all people might arrive to the point where they can enjoy their lives in a spirit of generosity, lucidity and freedom, and I beg the United States Army and the Division of Family Services to come to their political and human senses and yield to the ideal that all men belong to the same community where equality and justice for all is the common goal.
Mr. Anthony St. John, a former American, contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Italy.