Wednesday, January 04, 2012
One of the empty boys
The date was May 20, 1966. A group of students had taken over the office of Stanford President Wallace Sterling, protesting against the institution of a test that was among the first steps toward the Vietnam-era draft.
Carey Coulter, a conservative and anti-Communist student who had spent time as a civilian in Vietnam, was outraged and organized a counter-protest.
"We were there to get an education and these people holding the Administration hostage was antithetical to that," he recalled to BuzzFeed in his first interview about the day.
As the roughly 150 counter-protesters held signs and chatted with passing students, a tall, neatly-dressed 19-year old Coulter had never seen before approached him.
"He walked up to me and said that he had some experience with the press, and that he would handle the press for me if I wanted him to," Coulter recalled. "I said fine, because I was busy running the demonstration."
"He just saw the demonstration, was sympathetic to it obviously, and came up," Coulter said. He added that Romney hadn't made the sign he's carrying in the photograph.
Romney hadn't organized the protest, and wasn't part of Coulter's later efforts to beat back a growing student anti-war movement.
"I don’t recall ever seeing him again," Coulter said of Romney, who spent just a year at Stanford and enrolled after his mission in France at Brigham Young University[...]
Greenwald did the job on Romney's Vietnam non-experience back in 2007. I particularly liked this Boston Globe quote he refers to:
Mr. Romney, though, said that he sometimes had wished he were in Vietnam instead of France. "There were surely times on my mission when I was having a particularly difficult time accomplishing very little when I would have longed for the chance to be serving in the military," he said in an interview, "but that was not to be."
He was prevented from serving because he was a "minister of religion" you see. Such a pity.
Not that I particularly want to revisit the Vietnam wars, but this does remind me of a piece I wrote about fellows like Romney back in the day. It's long, this is just an excerpt:
The war provided two very distinct tribal pathways to manhood. One was to join "the revolution" which included the perk of having equally revolutionary women at their sides, freely joining in sexual as well as political adventure as part of the broader cultural revolution. (The 60's male leftist got laid. A lot.) And he was also deeply engaged in the major issue of his age, the war in Vietnam, in a way that was not, at the time, seen as cowardly, but rather quite threatening. His masculine image encompassed both sides of the male archetypal coin --- he was both virile and heroic.
The other pathway to prove your manhood was to test your physical courage in battle. There was an actual bloody fight going on in Vietnam, after all. Plenty of young men volunteered and plenty more were drafted. And despite the fact that it may be illogical on some level to say that if you support a war you must fight it, certainly if your self-image is that of a warrior, tradition requires that you put yourself in the line of fire to prove your courage if the opportunity presents itself. You simply cannot be a warrior if you are not willing to fight. This, I think, is deeply understood by people at a primitive level and all cultures have some version of it deeply embedded in the DNA. It's not just the willingness to die it also involves the willingness to kill. Men who went to Vietnam and faced their fears of killing and dying, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, put themselves to this test.
And then there were the chickenhawks. They were neither part of the revolution nor did they take the obvious step of volunteering to fight the war they supported. In fact, due to the draft, they allowed others to fight and die in their place despite the fact that they believed heartily that the best response to communism was to aggressively fight it "over there" so we wouldn't have to fight it here. These were empty boys, unwilling to put themselves on the line at the moment of truth, yet they held the masculine virtues as the highest form of human experience and have portrayed themselves ever since as tough, uncompromising manly men while portraying liberals as weak and effeminate.
Now it must be pointed out that there were many men, and many more women, who didn't buy into any of this "manhood" stuff and felt no need to join in tribal rituals or bloody wars to prove anything. Most of those men, however, didn't aspire to political leadership. Among the revolutionaries, the warriors and the chickenhawks, there were many who did. Indeed, these manhood rituals are more often than not a requirement for leadership. (Perhaps having more women in power will finally change that.)
The only political aspirants among those three groups who failed to meet the test of their generation were the chickenhawks. And our problem today is that they are the ones in charge of the government as we face a national security threat. These unfulfilled men still have something to prove.
It's a little psycho-babbly, I admit. But I still think there's something to this. The political leadership that emerged from the Vietnam generation are peculiar in this way, no doubt about it.
And, by the way, late boomer Barack Obama, despite his protestations to contrary, grew up in a culture immersed in all this, so he hasn't escaped it. I don't think he's operating from this same logic, however. If he's trying to prove something, I don't think it stems from this particular pathology.
Romney, on the other hand, is one of those guys, with all the baggage that comes with it. Look at that picture.
digby 1/04/2012 03:00:00 PM