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PDY Blog for 11-16-04

Today’s words of wisdom:
"As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

--H.L. Mencken

Haunting words from an earlier war:
‘It was not the Viet Cong who destroyed my house.’

    I’m sure I’m not the only one reading the stories, seeing the pictures out of Iraq and thinking in horror of how these are the mirror images of our dreadful mistakes in Vietnam. We would plan some elaborate “attack” on a village or urban setting. The guerrillas would back off and watch from a safe distance. And, then, we would move in and flat destroy the place. The good and decent civilians whom we were ostensibly fighting for had no place to go home to; we were the best enemies money could have bought the communist cause. Our unbelievably destructive actions confirmed absolutely everything the communists had told the people about us. The people whose hearts and minds we were out to save came to hate us and for very good reason. The American major standing in the ruins of the village of Ben Tre said it best to the great journalist Peter Arnet: “We had to destroy it in order to save it.”

    I will never forget one time in March of 1968 when I was a UPI correspondent in Vietnam the military went to elaborate lengths to get me into a tiny coastal village that had been the scene of a “communist massacre.” Now, it might put this story in context if I explain to what lengths I and UPI had gone to to try and get into another action just a few miles away only a matter of days before. That story had been widely reported from the military “briefing” sheets in Saigon. No reporter ever saw what was reported that day, I think it was March 16, 1968, but the New York Times and the Washington Post and every other newspaper in America ran the story anyhow saying “128 North Vietnamese regulars were killed in daylong fighting in the tiny coastal village of My Lai…” I was up in the Central Highlands that day and UPI tried desperately to get me into this action on the coast, but suddenly the military’s very efficient helicopter shuttle service wasn’t working. And no reporters ever got to the scene of the action they had described so vividly—until a year or so later when the facts came out that this had been a massacre of our own doing. The weird thing, if you go back to the original documents, is that the Americal division had accurately reported that only three or four weapons had been captured. From a force of “128 North Vietnamese regulars”?

    But a few weeks later, the powers that be in Saigon suddenly decided they had a genuine Viet Cong/NVA massacre on their hands at this other village. And the American people ought to be told about it. And so I was flown into Americal Division headquarters, with a magnificent officers’ club on a cliff overlooking the South China Sea. The briefer at Americal headquarters explained that the VC had overrun the village, then the Americans had “retaken” it by going in with all our mighty weapons from the air and ground. And the next day, I was taken out to view the atrocities committed by the dreaded Cong. I spent most of the day with an interpreter interviewing the villagers and taking notes on the devastation I saw. There hadn’t been much to the place to begin with, but everything standing had been leveled in the counter-attack by the Americans. The poor villagers literally had nothing to go home to. The line that chilled me to the bone and one that haunts all my other memories of Vietnam came from one of those villagers that day: “It was not the Viet Cong who destroyed my house.”


    Much as I abhor the fact that “gay marriage” may well have been the issue that decided this election, there is a part of me that rejoices in the public discussion that has ensued. I must believe it will only lead to greater tolerance and understanding. If you were born when I was, 1941, you know that this was the love that dare not speak its name. Homosexuals were only mentioned in the newspapers when they were arrested for “committing unnatural sex acts.” Or, when some “straight” man was acquitted for beating to death another man he claimed had made a “homosexual overture” to him.

    This was true up into the 1960s when I was working on newspapers and for UPI. Even among the more enlightened members of the press corps, I knew that if I disclosed my real identity as a gay man, I would be instantly fired and cursed as a second-class citizen, one whose views and actions were not to be trusted. I never in my early life ever expected to see the happy day come when our lives and lifestyles would be discussed and debated in the public arena.

    And, much as I hate to see four more years of George Bush, I do think that there are a growing number of Americans who will eventually be the majority who do not subscribe to right wing intolerance and firmly believe homosexuals have the same rights as other citizens. As more than one pundit has observed, the Democratic Party has lost the South over the whole issue of integration. But, no right-thinking Democrat would ever say we have to now endorse segregation in order to get those votes back. The Radical Republicans have no lock on moral values; quite the opposite. Their brand of intolerance and hate runs contrary to everything ever taught by Jesus Christ and the founders of our democracy. Now is not the time for the Democratic Party to back away from our own moral values of peace and justice for everybody. Ours is the ancient fight of enlightenment versus ignorance, freedom and tolerance versus bigotry and hate. If we do not have a majority yet, we’re getting there. And we will.

    The Washington Post has published two excellent columns in recent days on the whole subject of domestic partnerships and gay marriage. One article by Washington writer Timothy Gay contains this observation: “Here's what Republicans of conscience have to understand about the machinations of Karl Rove and company. Fear isn't some emotion that can be easily bottled back up after it's been -- viciously -- unleashed. It isn't a once-every-four-years vehicle that can be wheeled out for a few months, then stowed back in the garage to be retooled for the next election cycle. Encouraging fundamentalist preachers to pound their pulpits and inveigh against gay people has consequences. It puts men and women in communities across this country at personal and professional risk. There's nothing more despicable than creating a phony political issue (just how many gay couples are clamoring for marriage certificates in the state of Ohio, anyhow?) and preying on people's prejudices. So now it's up to discerning Republicans to wrestle with this quandary: You won all right, but at what cost? What happened to the party that once shared Abraham Lincoln's faith in the "better angels of our nature"?

    “There are a lot of Republicans troubled by their party's exploitation of contemporary know-nothingism. You know who you are. And before your party's degeneracy is complete, you ought to do something about it. Because camouflaging the fear and loathing of gay people as "moral values" isn't the base alloy of hypocrisy. It's hypocrisy itself.”

    A second op-ed piece was published recently in the Post and re-published in today’s Raleigh News & Observer. It was written by a gay man living in Virginia, Gordon P. Phelps. “Dear America,” he writes, “I’m sorry to say this, but you’ve been lied to about who I am and exactly what I’m about. You were told some mistruths, such as that I, a gay citizen, want to change your laws and religious definitions of marriage and force churches to marry same-sex couples. Also, that I am assaulting the very fabric of our nation, that I want to marry two, three or more persons or even an animal or two…as after the fact as it may be, I think you really deserve to hear the truth. The truth is: I don’t want to change your or anyone else’s religion. What your faith believe sin and promotes is between you and your congregation and your God/Yahweh/Allah/etc….I am saddened to say you were manipulated into believing otherwise, and politicians used your religious faith to do so.

     “The truth is: The only things I want are the same simple legal—not religious—responsibilities and rights that the rest of you get to enjoy without question… So, does that sound like I want to ‘change the fabric of the nation’? Does wanting these responsibilities make me the ‘greatest threat to the United States since communism?’ I’ve served 13 years in the military and five years as a law enforcement officer in my community. Exactly what type of threat to our nation am I? But you were told I was a threat, and somehow you believed it.

    “Now that you’ve heard from me, and not some politician, what it is I actually desire, do you really feel that threatened? And would granting me the same responsibilities you and yours enjoy without question truly rend the fabric of our nation asunder?

    “I believe deep inside you know what the answer is, and, yes, I’d be angry too if I’d been manipulated like that. That manipulation is a greater threat to your faith and our nation than I ever could be. Thanks for listening.”

     There are a lot of people out there who have been misled and mentally abused by certain Republican manipulators. It is at our own peril that we look with disdain upon them and do not see the elements that are within them are also within us. The very soul of our nation has been rent asunder by this mean and divisive campaign. We all need to pledge ourselves to a better, more tolerant America. So go out and hug a Republican. It may not change them but it’ll make you feel good and leave them a little confused.