Posted by: johnhourihan | March 5, 2013

The Gospel of St. Thomas according to John

We have been told by parents, teachers, world leaders, prophets and gods that if we ever found out what was really going on  – I mean beyond our day to day prejudices, biases and all those things we are cock-sure are the truth, that we accepted as the only possibilities – we would be very troubled.
It would be like the night Warrant Officer Thomas brought me into the wideband room in our operations area in Pleiku in 1968.
I was a voice intercept operator. That means I listened to the radio, found where the enemy was broadcasting, and taped the transmission. If it was a conversation of immediate importance I would translate it and send it to my superiors. If not, we would translate the tapes on the next shift. Either way it was some of the most reliable intelligence we had during the Vietnam War.
One evening I walked the quarter mile from my tent to the operations area where rows of large trucks were  backed up to a ramp. I walked up the few stairs that took me up to the wooden ramp and  then down the length of the walkway to my operations site, the last truck on the right.
On the back of each truck was a sort of room, and inside were back to back rows of four radio positions – radios hooked to reel-to-real tape recorders so we could do our electrical eavesdropping.
This was, I believed, the state of the art.
On this particular dry season evening, the heat in the trucks was unbearable but waning as the night wore on. I liked working at night because of the relatively cool breeze blowing through the open windows of the truck-mounted room.
On this night, as I tuned my R-390 to a frequency I felt would be busy, I was surprised.
A transmission from  a North Vietnamese base camp had already become busy and the information I was listening to told me that something extremely important had just been sent from the base camp to several other outlying sites.
Since there had been a lull between the day shift leaving and my arrival, the important information had gone unrecorded.
I took off the head set and went for a coffee. There was nothing I could do about this.
I dipped my canteen cup into the black and steaming coffee vat, I brushed the bugs off the sugar and put  a handful into my cup. Next to that was some powdered milk. I scooped a handful into my cup and walked on down to the first truck on the left.
Our Warrant Officer, Mr. Thomas, was on duty so I told him about the unlucky timing of the broadcast.
He smiled and motioned for me to follow him.
I had never been to the truck in the center of the compound before. It was called the wideband truck, and it was air conditioned.
It always bothered me that a few of my friends got to work in air conditioned comfort every day and every night while the rest of us sweated out the mission of gathering intelligence from the enemy.
A whoosh of cold air greeted us as we stepped inside.
“Close the door,” someone shouted, as if he didn’t want anyone else to experience the truth of what was inside his truck.
I did.
In front of me was a floor-to-ceiling machine. The first and last quarter panels were filled with blinking lights green and red and amber, then there were what appeared to be very large reel-to-reel recording device, but the tapes were huge.
They were something I had never seen before. The tapes, rather than being about a quarter inch wide, were about four inches wide and the reels were about two and a half feet in diameter. The tape wound around the reels from one to the next to the next like the fan belt on a very sophisticated automobile.
In the center was a radio that looked like my own R-390, but in addition to the frequency knobs and the volume knobs and the squelch button there was a knob of the month the day and the time a.m. or p.m.
“I don’t understand this,” I said to Mr. Thomas.
“Sit down,” he said smiling.
“Now turn the day and month to today’s date.”
I did that
“Now the time you think that transmission started today.”
I did that.
“Put on the headset and tune in to the frequency.”
I couldn’t believe it. I heard the beginning of the transmission.
“Can I do this for any day this month?”
“Any day, any month, any time any frequency.”
“Astonishing,” he said. “isn’t it?”
I thought for a second and realized, here in the Central Highlands of southeast Asia in 1968, we had made time irrelevant.
This is when it first occurred to me that if a 20-year-old low ranking enlisted man  was allowed to know this there were things I didn’t know that were totally astonishing – things that if we knew the secrets of what existed we would be very troubled. And if others didn’t know these same things, we could control so much of the world.
So when I read the other day, in the Gospel of St. Thomas, pretty much the same idea, that if we knew all the secrets Jesus was trying to tell us about, we would first be troubled, then astonished and then would rule “the All,” I was troubled.



  1. And??

  2. My brain can’t handle what I ‘know’, never mind everything else. One thing I do know is the moment that I believe I’m in control of something in this world, the next moment something happens to disprove that thought. Woe be unto the fools who think they are in control!

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