Sunday, September 04, 2005

Political Errors

In 1968, as a high-school student, I gave a little speech accepting an "American History Award" from the American Women's Society of Bogotá, Colombia. (I think I still have the plaque.) I predicted the extinction of homo sapiens, to take place by the year 2000. (Mom made me write an apology, but not a retraction.)

If this happened, I guess I missed it. But I was very sincere at the time, and I still think it could have happened. We were lucky.

That was probably my worst political-prediction error, but I think my worst political error, from the same period, was one of misclassification. You see, I thought Vietnam was an unjust war; I thought we were the bad guys.

Why? I had several kinds of reason, starting with our opposition to free elections because, as wikipedia quotes Eisenhower, possibly 80 per cent of the population would have voted for the communist Ho Chi Minh. On a more personal level, Norman Morrison was my First-Day School teacher's husband at the time that he immolated himself on the Pentagon steps. And in between, my father and grandfather were non-pacifist Quakers who were proud of service in their respective World Wars, but who opposed Vietnam.

So when I turned 18 and registered in Buenos Aires, just a couple of months after Kent State, I was walking around making speeches to myself about being a non-pacifistic conscientious objector, unwilling to pretend a religious objection to all war but willing to go to jail rather than serve -- and I totally blanked out on the fact that my having been diagnosed as an epileptic (incorrectly, I learned years later) made me an automatic 4F. This was embarrassing, but did not affect my views of Vietnam as an unjust war.

But then came the boat people. When a small country finishes a war and the good guys win, you don't expect a million or two of its people who have stuck it out through that war to risk their lives running away from the peace. If a million or two of its people do risk their lives running away, then you have to question your assumptions. The good guys did not win. Maybe it was an ill-thought war (or maybe not), maybe we should have stayed out (or maybe not), maybe our defeat was inevitable (or maybe not). But the guys who won were not the good guys; the boat people (primarily) convinced me of that. If I had foreseen the boat people, I would have volunteered to serve in Vietnam. (And I'd have been rejected.)


Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences, Tom.

5:40 PM  

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