Posted by: johnhourihan | May 6, 2013

Americans laugh at nobility

In all nobility there is an element that Americans sadly see as ignorance, or at least foolishness.vietnam_20soldier
In 1968, at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., my 19-year-old self met what I felt was a particularly foolish boy.
His name was Paul, and if I knew his last name I wouldn’t print it here for a sincere desire to not hold him up to ridicule.
It was at the infancy of the buildup of the Vietnam War, and we, who found ourselves in the Army, were doing what we could to better our circumstances. Our singular thought was this: If we were to go to Vietnam, it would be better not to go as infantry.
The Army battery of tests told me I had an IQ of 138. Paul, it seemed to me, was quite a bit smarter, but he was few years my senior and that might have had something to do with it.
We found ourselves in the Army Security Agency (reputed to be those who scored in the top 10 percent of the testing.) This was a good way, we felt, to better our survival circumstances. To make matters better, we were being sent to language school. (Reputed to be the top three percent of those tested.)
After Basic Training we were both in barracks 14 of the DLIWC. The top language school in the world at the time.
Paul would be studying Russian. I would study Vietnamese.
All my work hadn’t moved me one inch in distance away from being sent to Vietnam and fighting a war.
Paul, however, had it made. You did not study Russian to be stationed in Southeast Asia.
One afternoon I looked out the end balcony of  the second floor of our barracks to see a group of hippies looking up. I laughed when one of the soldiers tossed a can of Right Guard down to them and followed it with a bar of soap. Hippies were said to be dirty back then at the onset of the antiwar movement. Soldiers were supposed to hate hippies. So most of us did.
I didn’t hate them but, then again, I did laugh at the joke.
Paul came to the balcony just behind me. He stood for a second, his eyes watered, then shoved past the clutch of soldiers on the porch.
“I’ll be right down,” he said to them.
Then to us, “Those are my friends.”
“They’re hippies,” I said.
“You hate them because they are against killing Vietnamese children?” he asked. “You better take stock of who you are.”
I didn’t understand. I mean, we were at war. We were soldiers. Hippies were to be laughed at. I couldn’t figure out how Paul would take them as friends. How stupid.
As he shuffled back through the now crowd toward his bunk a guy from Texas said , “Hey Paul, when the Vietnamese attack California, call a hippie. See where that gets you.”
It was funny, it was short and to a point, like a bumper sticker.
It was stupid, like “my cold dead hands,“ or “If you can afford cigarettes, you shouldn’t get  welfare,“ but  it is the type of logic we Americans seem to thrive on.
Paul stopped for a few seconds, stared at our flock of patriotic children, and then said, “Don’t you understand, there is something morally wrong with this war…with all wars, but with this one in particular. Damn, you are fools.”
Well, we wagged our heads at Paul that day because we know how stupid he had been.
Within a few weeks, the news of his assessment of the war had reached those in charge and Paul lost his security clearance.
How stupid could one soldier be?
We all knew that without a security clearance you couldn’t be in the Army Security Agency and your circumstances would take a turn for the worse.
But Paul’s words had made me, and probably many of the others there that day, start to think. So  within a few months I was taking my security clearance and new-found knowledge of the Vietnamese language to listen to my R-390 radio in the Central Highlands of the Southern Pass.
And Paul, whose nobility had seen the Vietnamese War for what it was long before most of the rest of us did, was taking his newly acquired knowledge of small arms and hand grenades with his infantry outfit to fight in its jungles.
It is amazing what we Americans do to nobility.



  1. I think most if not all of us have the ability to be noble in us. It takes the very strong of character,the very strong of heart to allow nobility to direct our thoughts,words,and actions. In front of such an audience PAUL was that strong! I hope his words and actions didn’t hurt him too greatly. I hope the goverments reaction didn’t make him think twice when he again called on his own nobility. I think when we think about nobility we think of people instead of the character that influences us? We sometimes forget we can find the greatest hieghts of nobility in the dirt farmer.

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