Saturday, January 18, 2014

It's already 2014, and what've I done lately?

On December 31, 2013, I made a resolution to try to write a blog post every day in 2014.  So far, I've written one. Oh well.

A story that appeared this morning via the Zinn Education Project prompted me to reflect a little. The story is about how, 45 years ago today, President LBJ had a luncheon for women who at the time were viewed as being active in various ways.  Among the guests was Eartha Kitt, famous for the song "Santa Baby" and also for being, for a time, Catwoman.  When she was invited to say something, she stood up and, in LBJ's face, criticized the Vietnam War.  For some time after that, she found it hard to get work. It was like that back then.

I had not heard about this, and that revelation got me wishing that I had become more politically aware earlier on.  People say that you're liberal when you're young, and then conservative as you get older.  I am the reversal of that process.  In January 1968 I was a senior at William & Mary, just waking up, partly because I had extra energy available from having to stop the competitive running that got me into William & Mary in the first place.  I was taking Russian, not for blatantly political reasons so much as to be able to read the fascinating writing I had seen on signs and banners in the film Doctor Zhivago.  I read the Communist Manifesto, not as a required thing, but to see what the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) members who kept coming around trying to get me to join were so jacked up about; and surprise, some of it made sense.

I was already a little bit preset towards cynicism with regards to the official US line on the Soviet Union, "communism," and such.  Of course, in public school in the 1950s I had practiced diving under my school desk at the sound of the air raid sirens. The desks were wooden...  At least we could say that we were close enough to strategic targets like Washington, Camp David, and Fort Ritchie that we might be, marginally, on somebody's radar.  At the same time, though, as a high school distance runner my coach had lent out books on the great distance runners of that time, many of whom were from Eastern Bloc countries.  Reading about them, they seemed like pretty normal, even admirable, people.

After graduation, in the summer of 1968, a friend and I wandered around behind the "Iron Curtain" for a few weeks looking for the Red Menace, but all we found were open, generous people and a horrible knockoff of Coca Cola (the People's Cola, we called it). In Prague we spent a little time with one of those athletes I had read about, Emil Zátopek, and found him and others not only normal and admirable, but distinctly proud of the direction socialism was taking in what was then Czechoslovakia.

Also in Prague, we visited the North Vietnam Information Agency, and got a glimpse of their side of the story: photos of bombings, people and buildings blown apart. We were doing to them what we said they were doing to us, except that it was all taking place in their country, and we were the invaders. This was sobering.

There's more, but I'll save it for another post.

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