|The following narrative was submitted on 23 March, 1997, by Daniel Raphael, who was born in 1948. If you'd like to contribute a narrative, please fill out our form. If your browser doesn't handle forms, just write us an email. For permission to reprint narratives, please contact Viet Nam Generation, Inc.|
The Viet Nam war was the main, defining event of my young adulthood. It taught me what evil is, in human form. I learned about the seemingly limitless capacity of people to lie, rationalize, and perform every sort of inhumanity. Remember William Calley? I do. Now, when the US government or some other public body intones about the Nuremburg Trials and Western Civilization and a lot of other crap, I remember that the U.S., the pinnacle of Western Civilization, made William Calley stay at home for awhile for having ordered the murder of an entire village of poor peasants (some of whom, by the way, had been raped a few days prior to this event by another friendly American patrol in the area).
What did I do? Everything I could to try to stop the war. Became more and more radical. It's a familiar story.
What's unfamiliar? Some details and perhaps one or two thoughts. First, details: I was the founding president of the Free University of Seattle in 1966. I performed calligraphic work for, and co-edited a manuscript with Dr. Timothy Leary, which was published in 1970.
A thought: I found that two very different cultures vied for my allegiance, understanding, and identity: one was the culture of Love and Peace, the hippy vision of nonviolence and creative transformation. The other was that of forceful, determined resistance to institutional violence and exploitation. This clash of cultures which was occurring around me was, unsurprisingly, also mirrored--and felt--inwardly. Much of the tension and anxiety of that time was one of being "between two chairs" in a very non-abstract way. I felt torn, as I think many of our generation did. Confronted with evil, evil which I as an individual could not abolish or stop from actively hurting others, what was I to do? What could I do? What should I do? These were the questions I lived into being, which consumed me, which defined my life's choices.
I have learned a lot about the human capacity to adapt to evil, to accept it, to routinize it, to call it by pretty names. To forget what is inconvenient and to lie about the rest. I am not being cynical, but realistic--two seconds' worth of examination of widespread public attitudes towards "our" government and "democracy" will show anyone who's not in total denial, that the things I am pointing to are simply business as usual. The War taught be about business and the price of doing business; the photograph of My Lai is a good illustration of what routinely is not shown to us: the cost of doing business.
So what is my story? Mine is the story of someone permanently disillusioned. It is harder to live in the world, seeing people as they are. One learns to be silent, in order to get along, because the alternatives are to find life much harder to bear, or else to lie. You can see these choices all around you, in the form of our society. Of course, there is a price to pay for being silent in the face of evil, just as there is a price to pay for active complicity with it or calling it by name and resisting it. We, each one of us, are confronted with these choices in a myriad of ways, just in the course of living. This is the existential lesson in my life. It is this lesson that I have shared with you. I could have talked about my experiences with LSD and such, but what I have shared is far more real today, for who I am now is the same person who was struggling then with the issues described here. I no longer take drugs, but I do still struggle with what to do in the face of evil--and questioning, when I look in the mirror, how much of the face of evil is looking back at me. As I think Abraham Lincoln once said, "After forty, every man is responsible for his own face." Indeed.
A friend recently described the Sixties as a field of broken dreams. This is the 30th anniversary of The Summer of Love, when a generation proclaimed a celebration of Love and Peace in the midst of a society insane with war, racist violence, and intolerance towards individual freedom. This is a good time to remember, celebrate, dream, and create. I am doing small things to nudge a celebration/commemoration of that time to emerge into being, here in Seattle. Perhaps something of that spirit of the time, the hope for a world not dominated by falsehood and the violence of exploitation, still is abroad in the land, fugitively stealing, as Ferlinghetti put it in a poem, "into some anonymous Mary's womb."
Peace to you. Love and Peace; what matters more?