Monday, September 28, 2009

Ba’-chu’ Ku Nah-kan: Wolf with Fire in his Eyes

It was 1968. I was in the 7th grade.

The NASA Apollo program was all the rage, Star Trek (the original series) was still on TV and it was in color though only some of us were really into the show.

The national news was all about, Vietnam especially word about the Tet offensive which was in full swing and was not yet won by our forces (but it would be in the end). Walter Cronkite was still trusted to bring us unambiguous reports about this 'conflict' which is what it was referred to, mainly because a Democrat got us into it. Although at the time this nuance was lost on me.

RFK and Martin Luther King were still alive.

My 7th grade social studies class was given an assignment that required each of us to pick a country and do a detailed report on it. This report was to be comprehensive and to include a discussion on its people and customs, its history and its location, the form of its government and political leaning. We were to include pictures and news articles; it was to be my first real term paper.

I did my research; I was kind of a geek back then, may still be one. I sent a letter to the embassy of the country I chose asking for data and information. The pictures and maps I received were a treasure trove and added a lot of content to my report. I handed it in with pride knowing it would be one of the better reports.

I was not to be disappointed. Well except for waking up one morning and finding out that the USSR had invaded the country I had chosen to do my report on.


This one event would spark my exploration toward a political philosophy and one person would cement me in the position I hold today, and will for the rest of my life.

Even listening to the eloquent RFK and Martin Luther King would not drive me into their party. Neither would the many riots that spread across the county that year. Large and small cities were hit with students in one place, radical racists in another, political activists in yet another. It was anti-war here and there and in many it was racial injustice. The country burned.

All the great songs from some of the best crop of musicians ever to find their voice, even Walter Cronkite who turned into a war puss, or LBJ himself declining to run (an honorable thing to do I might add) could turn me towards the Left.

Even the death of a beloved uncle who died in that mess that became Vietnam.

It was the fact that only Republicans (they weren't yet called conservatives or liberals back then) decried the invasion and occupation as wrong. Only Republicans pushed for retaliation, only Republicans warned of the growing menace that was Communism. Barry Goldwater was very vocal in his assessment in what the Soviets were up to but his attention was really on China. They were helping the fight in Vietnam. Nixon came along who talked strongly about this Communist expansion and the Nation followed him at election. I do think most of those voting for him were doing so mainly to end the war. A promise he would keep but not until his re-election 4-years later.

The rhetoric from the Left back then was all about getting out of Vietnam, similar to the rants about getting out of Iraq that we heard just a few months ago (or so it seems). They all talked about getting out of the War business, moving back to Earth. Mother Earth. That was big in those days. Everything had something to do with the Earth. Like today's "Green".

Republicans were having nothing to do with this, they pushed back against this movement and the first time I can remember anyone talking about the "Constitution". What was this document and how it was interpreted divided the two political philosophies in the country? That was my next project and I learned much about the founding of this country. Well, at least the 'white' country as my Mother would say. She would use the Indian word for white however, masking her sarcasm only slightly.

Discussion at home around the kitchen table over coffee (no one drank alcohol in my home) was all about what was owed and to whom. How the Democrats were the party of the 'hand-out' and the Republicans were the party of the 'hand-up'. All of the women were Democrats, my two brothers and I argued for the Republicans even though only one of us could actually vote (my older brother) and he had the draft notice as a reward for that privilege.

I wondered why the division between male and female. What appealed to Women and feeble men that they were almost always Dem's and Manly men were Republicans?

That summer I spent with my Grandmother up on the Jicarilla Apache reservation chopping wood for her long winter (the little town was at 8,000 feet elevation and snow came early and stayed a long time). She lived alone and cooked and heated her small home with wood. While there I was alone with my thoughts as virtually no one else spoke English, not even my Grandmother. Well actually, she spoke broken English, sprinkled with Spanish words to make up for the words she could not remember in English. I did not speak the dialect spoken on the reservation and nor did I speak Spanish; well actually I speak a broken Spanish sprinkled with English words to make up for the words I cannot remember in Spanish. At night I read and listened to news on the radio, KOMA out of Oklahoma City. Grandmother would listen too. And she would read as well.

Near the end of that summer over many dinners, she started to ask me about my feelings towards the war and the riots in the cities, the student demonstrations. And she asked about how I felt about the Government. Its role in my life and our lives in total.

Now, this was a Woman who was a directly named party in the law suit against the United States to win the Native Americans of her Tribe their citizenship. She would further fight to get the right to Vote for them as well in yet another law suit. She was a completely self taught individual, having never attended a single day of school. This was not an option for young Native American women. Especially one that was brought up as a Prisoner, a POW if you will of our country. Her status on birth was that, brought up by adoptive parents on Fort Sill Oklahoma, it was a huge prison back then for 'hostile' natives.

But she could read and write in three languages (for the most part). And she could fight, it was in her blood after all, being an Apache. But she asked for nothing of her Government after those few basic rights conveyed to all people born here, except for the return of Her son's remains from the jungle in south east Asia.

Our talks were remarkable; she knew more about the constitution and our government than I had learned since the invasion of that small country in Europe. That included everything I could dig up in the World Book Encyclopedia set we had at home and had brought up with me. The most remarkable item was that she was the most Republican person I would come to know. They would call her a conservative today if she were alive. But she knew full well that any government involvement meant complications in your life. Best to keep it at arm's length, in a choke hold if at all possible.

When I returned just before school started it was like the City I lived in had completely changed. Hippies were everywhere; there were communes up on the desert where no humans had lived before. Women quit wearing bra's (not a bad thing all told) and they were some of the most vocal against the war. I now saw things in left and right, what would later become liberal and conservative in a decade or two. I would always align with the right, next to my Grandmother.

And that is my make up today. Communism equals totalitarianism, suppression of the individual's rights, Communes and Collectives, the Gulags, exile to Siberia, Central Planning and of course the State. It means big government.

Nothing good can come of it, no nation so conceived has ever lasted, even the USSR failed, China will eventually. And so will we as we transition to that very form of governance.

That was the summer I would be given my Indian name, my Apache moniker as it were, given by the elder woman of your clan. It was also the last summer of mandatory wood chopping activity for me; I would go willingly thereafter until I left for the Navy.

The summer of my countries discontent gave me a political bent and a legacy.

Thank You Carmen.

BT: Jimmy T sends.


Buck said...

I think I would have loved your grandmother, Jimmy. A true American, in EVERY sense of the word.

You DO make me feel old tho, coz I was well into my second enlistment in 1968. But mebbe that's coz I AM old!

I was a social liberal at that time and I also had faint anti-war feelings, mainly because of the way the war was being run... which is to say: badly. You just KNOW things will not go well when the President of the United States is in the business of selecting the day's bombing targets while sitting in the Oval Office, with his whiz-kid SecDef by his side. Not to mention the fact the enemy had sanctuaries they could retreat to, without fear of being attacked. I could go on, but I won't. Except to say it was a VERY bad time for us.

virgil xenophon said...

LOL.I'm with Buck here, talk about feeling old! I was finishing my 1st cmbt tour out of DaNang in '68 with the old 366TFW.(The Gunfighters) This fossil is not TOTALLY ossified yet, but reminders like this are all too real reminders of how "time flys."

A very fine and thoughtful post, Jimmy. An enjoyable read.

JimmyT said...

Buck, Yeah she was amazing. Up till then I had not given her much regard, she lived so far away from her family which had all moved to ABQ. But we still went up to help her and she proved to me to be extraordinary and I made an effort to see every chance I got.

VX, I know about that old feeling, I get it when I walk into an AT Shop and none of them were alive when I last worked on an S-3 while in uniform.

Thanks for you comments about the story.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

Reese said...

Awesome story, how you melded (at least) two formative events (winters with Grandma and the '68 summer) into an explanation of why you know how things are.

I was four in '68. Vaguest memories. I distinctly remember watching the first moon landing.

I know history didn't start when I was born. Nor when you or your grandmother were born. I have a favorite album (Kansas' Monolith), the cover art of which reminds me that history isn't over either. (Same for all of Boston's album covers).

No problem here with government, as long as it is of the people, yada yada (restrained like you said in a choke hold) and not for itself (as it always seems to become).

While I'm here, lemme say I also enjoyed reading about the events leading to the Chevy picture!

Bobby R sends.