Thursday, May 07, 2009


Mallard Fillmore this morning was detestably laughable, as contrasted with hilarious. When I was at ISU back in the late Sixties, I knew a few members of the Students for a Democratic Society (the "SDS" Mallard refers to), but that was the joke — a few members. There was never a link between local journalism and national protest; that was the other joke — the nearly impossible struggle to get the Des Moines Register, e.g., to cover student protest, or how to get enough warm student bodies to an anti-war rally to make it worth a reporter's time to show up. (Sort of like "teabagger" rallies... I do sympathize.)

I did once meet a real firebrand radical, Bernadette Devlin, who might have been married to someone as violent as the Weather Underground apparently was — but she was Irish, from Northern Ireland, and had just been elected to the Westminster parliament, where she slapped a British Home Secretary's face for calling the Bogside Massacre "self-defense," if I recall correctly. She was fundraising in the States on a tour that brought her to Des Moines. My memory is a bit hazy, but I seem to recall a fair-sized crowd and Arlo Guthrie-style guitar music — which she despised, having, as a Catholic in Ulster, more in common with Black Panthers in this country than young, privileged, student (or even faculty) war protesters.

My own politics at the time was a bit mixed; I'd read Barry Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative, and in 1966 I volunteered for the draft but was classified 1-Y (same as 4-F, but if Ho Chi Minh invaded Merle Haye Mall, they'd call me to arms).

Later, still smarting over the 1963 photo of the Vietnamese monk who set himself ablaze, I eventually took a position against the war — in 1971, following the Kent State massacre — although I think no one noticed my input much, besides my own family and a few friends.

Kent State turned me into an angry, activist Democrat.

Eventually, of course, journalism did indeed end the war in Vietnam, when the picture of the naked girl screaming from napalm burns on her back and running ahead of soldiers (South Vietnamese, as it turned out) was published. Even Tom Harkin's tiger cage pictures in Life magazine contributed to revulsion against the war — but aside from a few mossback conservatives and one pistol packing drunk that Harkin staffer Dick Thomas wrestled to the ground (back in the Seventies), no one remembers that as a hugely important moment, unlike this one:

That 1/125th of a second (note the blur in the boy's hand) changed the world. Real capital-J Journalism and War do not mix, which is why I really, really, really appreciate Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann these days. Those people have real jobs.

Mallard Fillmore, on the other hand, still can't see it as it is, let alone call it like it was. Yes, veterans are (and were) often disgusted with pictures like these — not because they're shocking, which they are, but because they're commonplace and we "hypocritical war protesters" don't even know it. These images, Mallard's "something or other", sear our consciences, but frankly, we ignored the seared (and smeared, and annealed) psyches of the vets we blithely drafted to drop down the Moloch maw of Vietnam. The bravest veteran I ever saw was a guy at Iowa State, whose name I never knew, who came back from Nam with a red scar stretched over the front and side of his face and jaw; he didn't smile, except with his eyes. He was shockingly cheerful, considering. That sort of gets to you.

So don't compare teabags to napalm, Duck. They're not the same.

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