I am old enough to remember the Free Speech Movement, not from the newscasts of NBC, CBS, and ABC (the only main sources), I know it because I caught a bus and walked up University Avenue. I didn’t have a driver’s license.
Over the next few years I went from a back row observer in demonstrations, to an active, front line member. I placed my body on the train tracks, I surrounded buses filled with drafted young men, pleading for them to get off the bus. They were heading to be cannon fodder in Vietnam Nam.
I was tear gassed dozens of times,I was trapped in the entryway of a store, then pressed by bodies who were being beaten by baton wielding police. Eventually I was pushed through a plate glass window. I was there during People’s Park riots.
I was a monitor on the San Francisco Peace March, I rode backwards on a scooter, shouting through a megaphone, “Keep to the curb!” I know about peaceful demonstrations, I know about violent demonstrations where lives were lost.
These were the formative years of my life.
The Vietnam War was still on, I was finally drafted. I was in the bus this time. Some of my acquaintances were outside the bus in Oakland, pleading for us to get out of the bus, “Do not let yourself to be cannon fodder!”, they shouted.
I was flown up to Ft.Lewis, Washington for basic training. I lasted two weeks before I got an honorable discharge. Then I enlisted for three years in the regular army. This counted as a re-enlistment, so I got additional “professional” pay.
I spent almost 15 months in training. I had secret, top secret, and top secret crypto clearances. I was stationed for a year in the underground Pentagon in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I was also stationed on the DMZ in South Korea. This was during a mini shooting war. I heard bullets come my way, I sent bullets their way. One early morning, around 3am, I got a classified message that the Vietnam War was over. The peace accord was signed in Paris. Six months later I left the army.
Both events were shaping in very positive ways. Both events left their scars.
I used to know stuff, the older I get, the less I know. Some things still seem to ring true. There are honorable people in the world, and they are diverse. There are misled people in the world, and they are equally diverse. They are evil people in the world, not in huge numbers, but at times they have great influence. This is the way of the world.
Another truth, power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
To the extent that it is possible, I choose to be under a corrupt system that still gives me the freedom to protest. In this way I can still influence change. The Vietnam War ended!
And I gave my oath to defend that system against those who would attack by violence. That oath is still active.
I am not conflicted.
My dad was ready to go to Vietnam if he had to, but he was 4F due to a childhood injury. Thanks for keeping the peace.
I went at first because I had a “golden ticket” to get out. I was playing the system, staying in long enough only to get veteran’s benefits, then use my ticket. I had a bullet in several pieces embedded in my thigh. But I couldn’t fake the pain, and I couldn’t leave the men behind. Then somehow I became a soldier.
John Lennon would say, Life is what happens when we’re making other plans. I think we do what we can with the cards we’re dealt. Life is less cut and dried than we think in our 20s. : )
I remember “knowing for certain”, I remember being pompous, and obnoxious. But I must admit, I remember it dimly.