While I was in high school, trying to prepare for my future job, and trying to figure women out, there were so many other things going on. Those were very interesting times. According to Wikipedia: May you live in interesting times is reputed to be the English translation of an ancient Chinese proverb and curse. It is reported that it was the first of three curses of increasing severity, the other two being: May you come to the attention of those in authority, and May you find what you are looking for.
I’ve certainly experienced the first two, but I don’t know that I’m looking for anything anymore.
I read everything I could while growing up. I spent a good part of every summer taking books out of the library, and I’m one of those weird kids that actually like having assigned books to read. I used to read cereal boxes if I was eating breakfast; I read packages while shopping; I read comics and novels and newspapers. In high school I read a lot about the war going on in Vietnam. I was very impressionable, and gathered at the time that the U.S. was helping to fight Communism spreading through the world by fighting the North Vietnamese. It seemed from what I read that Communism was pretty evil, and that the North Vietnamese were puppets of the Soviet Union, which was trying to take over the world the way that Hitler had. As things went on and on, I heard that a lot of U.S. soldiers were getting killed. Then we began seeing scenes of war on the nightly TV news as well. From my perspective, and from what I was reading, it seemed the U.S. needed to end that war, and it was very difficult to win by conventional methods. I decided, and I had read something along those lines somewhere, that we, the United States, should just drop a nuclear bomb on them and get it all over with. It made sense to me. Why keep wasting our soldiers on a war that seemed to never end?
I don’t know what made me change my mind. There was very little in the newspapers about opposition to the war for the sake of peace. From everything I’d been taught, the United States was the greatest defender of freedom and democracy on the planet, and had helped in large part to end both World Wars and to protect South Korea from being taken over by Communists. It was hard to imagine that we might be doing the wrong thing. I remember two things that upset my worldview. One was hearing about a Republican candidate for President who was against continuing the war. His name was George W. Romney. Not George W. Bush – that would be over 30 years later. And not 2008 presidential candidate Mitt Romney either – George W. Romney was his father! Anyway, George W., the Romney, not the Bush, said that he didn’t believe it was necessary to be involved in Vietnam to stop Communism. He called for peace in Vietnam. That made sense to me. I began following anything written about him, hoping he would be the next President, but he suddenly dropped out of the race.
About this time, two Catholic Jesuit priests staged a protest against the war and the killings, but most especially the drafting of all of the young guys graduating from high school. They did so by pouring blood on draft files that they had taken out of an induction center. This was big news to me! Having been brought up very strictly, and having been an altar boy as well, I had always looked up to priests. That a priest would do something like that to make a statement! I was amazed. Then after being released, they did it again, this time creating homemade napalm out of Ivory Snow and gasoline, and pouring that on draft files right near me, in Catonsville, Maryland.
That was it for me. My opposition to the war was clear and never shaken again. I knew it was wrong, and I knew that going to fight there was a lost cause, and a waste of one’s life. I wasn’t going to go. Another candidate for President suddenly emerged. This time it was a Democrat, Eugene McCarthy, and he was strongly against continuing the war. He was an intellectual, a writer, and a teacher. He challenged LBJ, something no one else in the Democratic party, including Robert Kennedy, would do. That was the kind of person I could admire over all else. Later, after McCarthy did extremely well in the New Hampshire primary, LBJ was seen as vulnerable, and Robert Kennedy announced he would also run against Johnson. LBJ then announced he was not going to seek the nomination to run again. Hubert Humphrey announced that he would run. Following that, McCarthy won in Wisconsin and Oregon. Kennedy was trailing, having gotten a late start. Most young people were not interested in Humphrey, who was not coming off as being strongly opposed to the war. I was not impressed by Kennedy. Kennedy, however, won the important California primary. It could have become a very interesting contest, between McCarthy, seen as courageous for taking on Johnson, and Kennedy, with his youth and Kennedy sheen. However, Robert Kennedy was assassinated moments after his victory speech.
The Democrats, as usual, chose not to pick a maverick intellectual, but went with tried and true party-man Hubert H. Humphrey. They lost the election, big time, to Republican Richard Milhous Nixon, a supporter of the war.