The photo on the bottom has haunted me for 50 years. Not that I think about it every day . . . or even every year, but over a half century it’s come to mind far more times than I would have liked. So, when I saw the top picture on my phone, it instantly evoked the extra-judicial execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém. I needed to do this to stop thinking about it. Too much thinking about death lately. 😕
Tag Archives: Vietnam
As I have noted previously, I am seriously considering working on a book, either of my memoirs (my whole life) or one about my activities in the Peace and Justice movement of the late sixties and early seventies. Most of that work was in protesting the war in Vietnam, but some of it was in protest of racism and inequality. If fact, I just found this document I authored about six years ago, which I called “20 things about me” and I can see it doesn’t say a word about my work with the Committee to Free Angela Davis. Clearly, I’ll be adding to this list, which I believe I will use to help me organize my thoughts about my life.
- I was born with club feet, one of which was corrected with casts, the other of which was corrected with surgery at 5 years old.
- When I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1966, I failed my physical because of my foot, but argued successfully that you don’t march in the Navy. Big mistake; it’s about all you do in boot camp. Was subsequently discharged when they discovered I had arthritis in my ankle.
- My father, fearing I would become a bum, bought a small snack shop for me when I was 19 and a half. I was there during the Summer of Love (1967) and ended up having him sell it at a loss so I could go up to Haight-Ashbury and find out what the hell was going on.
- It took me 3.5 years to complete High School because I cut so many classes and just didn’t want to be there. I subsequently gained admission and graduated with a Juris Doctorate from an accredited Law School ten years later, without having attended undergraduate school.
- I provided armed security – as a bodyguard and with a team doing bomb searches, etc. – for numerous groups and individuals during the height of the anti-Vietnam War movement, including Jane Fonda, Arco Iris, Hortensia Bussi, and Vietnamese students in the U.S.
- I, along with my brother and my roommate, provided armed bodyguard services for Roger MacAfee and his family after they had put up their ranch for Angela Davis’s bail.
They were guests of honor at a fundraiser called “In Concert For Angela,” which was held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. His family, and the three of us, were about the only white people there.
- I was a bartender at the Ash Grove in Hollywood, a venue distinguished by having been burned to the ground numerous times by anti-Castro Cubans (Gusanos).
- I spent two months in Cuba as a guest of the Cuban government and a member of the sixth contingent of the Venceremos Brigade.
- I taught myself Spanish for the trip.
- My first wife was Cuban (totally unrelated to my trip many years earlier) and my current (2nd) wife is Sansei (3rd generation Japanese-American).
- I’ve smoked pot since I was 19. I’m currently 66 (and my brain still functions pretty darn well).
- I love good single-malt Scotch.
- My last dog was a Rottweiler who was given to me as a gift from a girlfriend who couldn’t handle him. He loved to chase shadows and stomp ants.
- I have had at least a dozen cats throughout my life, including two right now – Zack and Weezy.
- I accidentally ended up working on the Space Shuttle Main Engine program beginning a year before the Shuttle’s return to flight after the Challenger disaster. I stayed there for 23 years.
- I accepted an early retirement package in 2010, as the Shuttle program was winding down and the space program was contracting.
- I earned a Masters degree in Knowledge Management from CSUN in 2009, at the age of 62.
- I became a first-time, adoptive father at the tender age of 55 and, in a stunning display of higher intelligence, did it again at 59. I feel responsible, but not guilty, for the part I have played in IA.
- I attempted to provide social media marketing services for small businesses after retiring, but soon discovered nobody could afford to hire me and most were abysmally ignorant of what was possible.
- At the end of last year I decided to offer my services as an editor and proofreader and my efforts are beginning to pay off.
- I just signed two contracts to write for a couple of organizations I have a great deal of respect for.
During my activity against the War in Vietnam, as well as other Peace & Justice movement activities I was involved in, I really never thought I would see my thirties. I know now I was a dreamer and a bit too wrapped up in my view of what was happening in the country, but I thought we were ripe for a revolution and I thought I would be on the front lines. That was nearly fifty years ago and time has given me a new perspective on life, the universe, and everything (H/T to Douglas Adams R.I.P.).
Today, however, marks the mid-point in my seventieth journey around our home star, Sol. It’s my half-birthday! I know . . . aren’t I a little too old to be celebrating half birthdays? I suppose, but this day has some other significance for me. Today marks the thirty-seventh year since a man surprised me on my doorstep in Venice, California, where I was living with my soon-to-be wife. He held me at gunpoint*, threatening to blow my “fucking brains out.” I managed to escape when he went to get something with which to tie my hands behind my back, something I had no intention of allowing him to do. I was prepared to attempt attacking him as he tried, but I didn’t have to. I had been preparing by slowly getting my right foot behind the bedroom door. I was lying spread-eagled on the floor, and each time he looked away I inched my foot closer and closer to the position I wanted.
Fortunately, I was able to get away from him by slamming the bedroom door (well, almost. The landlord had installed new carpeting and neglected to plane the bottom of the door, so it was almost impossible to shut it without a lot of force) in his face, levitating myself from the floor (lots of adrenaline involved at this point), grabbing my Ithaca Riot Pump Shotgun from the closet where I had carefully hidden it and practiced this very thing, and suggested he leave before I killed him. The remainder of the story is a bit convoluted and involved numerous calls to three different police departments before the first one I called finally realized they were, indeed, the proper jurisdiction for where I lived; about 200 feet east of Carroll Canal, on Ocean Avenue. It was years before I was able to finally throw off the hyper-vigilance this episode generated in me.
Also, this coming April I will be ten years older than my father was when he shed his mortal coil. This past September marked thirty-two years since he died. If you’ve read some of my other posts, his death weighed on heavily on me for quite some time. I was always considered the spitting image of him and my mother used to say “You’re just like your father” so often I was convinced fifty-nine was the limit for me as well. I think it wasn’t until I passed the age where he had had his second heart attack, and I had nothing more than moderate hypertension to deal with, I finally convinced myself I would likely live longer than he had.
So, here I am on the downside of my seventieth year on the planet. I actually used Microsoft Project to determine exactly when I would begin the second half of the year, and it was midnight today. Now, in celebration of having made it this far, and because it’s “the season,” I’m sharing two pictures I just found of a couple of my earliest Christmases. Next year is going to be interesting, no doubt. Perhaps it’s been long enough, and I can fully retell the story of this episode some time soon. This was a start.
* The link “He held me at gunpoint,” above, is to the decision in a re-trial the defendant won on one count of murder he was found guilty of. I was required to appear as a witness and, since he had become a jailhouse lawyer in the interim, he represented himself, meaning he was the one who questioned me when I gave my testimony. Two things – He was partially victorious on several other charges and the case was remanded to the trial court for reconsideration. As far as I know, he’s still in prison. Second, although the appellate court states he took three guns from me, he only took one; a Ruger Blackhawk .357 Magnum, with which he shot and killed two people. I carried a fair amount of guilt around for quite some time before I could finally convince myself those deaths were not at least partially on me.
Last month was the 50th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which resulted in the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This resolution authorized President Johnson to send in conventional forces and wage open warfare against the North Vietnamese and resulted in the dramatic escalation of the conflict. The coming years will bring us to many more 50th anniversaries of actions and engagements we never should have been involved in.
A side effect of researching the book I’m working on, which will chronicle my and my colleagues’ activities in the peace and justice movement from about 1966 through 1976, is revisiting the anger and frustration I felt at the terrible injustice of that and, really, all war. This video uses quite a few iconic images to good effect accompanying its song.
It also pisses me off to know how many petulant fools we still have as so-called “leaders”. The names John McCain and Lindsey Graham come readily to mind, but there are far too many others to think they’re anything more than the tip of the cold-blooded iceberg. Many of today’s problems can be laid at the feet of these war mongers and their sycophants.
One of the reasons I’ve decided to write about my experiences with the peace and justice movement in the late sixties and early seventies – specifically about a group of peace activists who dedicated huge amounts of time and energy providing organizational and security expertise – is because I believe there’s a concerted effort to marginalize those activities and their contribution to ending an unjust and predatory war.
Tom Hayden was one of the people I spent those years working with . Here’s a recent post from Tom’s website/blog. He writes, “We must call for inclusion in the memorial dialogue to prevent a false narrative of Vietnam [that] will lead to Vietnams without end.” Here, also, is an excerpt from a response to a request from Vietnam Veterans for Factual History, located in Missouri City, TX. (http://vvfh.org/):
“One reason I believe it’s hard to arrive at a true reckoning is that it would require an admission by too many authorities in the government and media that they lied – or distorted the truth, or were ill-informed themselves – when they sent millions of young Americans into dubious battle.
“But I believe it’s possible at grass-roots level, all across the country, for people like ourselves to engage in honest truth-digging and exchange of perspectives about those most intense years of our lives.”
My intent is to tell the story of a group who fought very hard — and who risked much — to bring an end to that war, from my perspective and through the recounting of my experiences. Knowing my memory has probably faded and, in any event, is incomplete because I wasn’t everywhere, I am contacting those people with whom I worked back then. Tom is one of them. You can read more about it at his Peace and Justice Resource Center. Here’s a link to the post I’m quoting from.
I think I received my first comeuppance regarding white privilege around 1973. I was not quite 26 years old and had been a very active member in the anti-Vietnam War movement in Los Angeles. I had attended, organized, publicized, and provided security for a number of demonstrations and events.
Now I was preparing to spend a couple of months in Cuba as a guest of the Cuban government. I was a member of the Sixth Contingent (Sexto Contingente) of La Brigada Venceremos. I was excited. However, nobody was allowed to travel without first undergoing some rigorous training in how to not be an ugly American.
We Americans (even the term American is somewhat arrogant, as the U.S. is only one country in an entire hemisphere referred to as America), especially us straight males, have got it way better than we like to think. Unfortunately, due to the concept of American Exceptionalism, we really do like to think our shit doesn’t stink and we are in a class by ourselves.
Well, actually, we are in a class by ourselves – but it’s really not something to be all that proud of, in my less than humble opinion. But I digress.
Part of my ongoing training (which lasted several months) was learning about white privilege, i.e. the numerous and subtle ways in which being white gives those who sport the color (or lack thereof) a leg up on everyone else. The training was excellent. I was not made to feel guilty; merely shown how it works, the evidence of which was impossible for me to deny.
As a Knowledge Management professional, one of the things that’s important to me is the avoidance of re-inventing the wheel. That means, among other things, using the work of others to build on, where appropriate. I think this is an appropriate place to do that with a blog written by John Scalzi who, frankly, I don’t know much about. Nevertheless, this blog he wrote is absolutely brilliant and draws an analogy I think useful in understanding the concept I’m talking about. I want to share it with my small group of readers.
Here’s the link to his post – http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/
I also want to share a video that’s a nice supplement to it. Enjoy!