Tag Archives: Vietnam War

Memorial Day, Draft Lottery, Reality TV, Flags

I woke up yesterday in Portland (OR), in a condo near the top of W. Burnside. The area has a series of cemeteries, dark green rolling hills, breaking up the otherwise thick forested landscape. It had rained all night, so there was a thick mist cushioning the quiet hills. It was early Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, not a lot of cars around, very quiet. Through the mist I could see the U.S. flags dotting the graves on the hills. Random patterns. A lot of the graves have flags today.

Later in the day we drove by, commented on the flags. How many from this century, Afghanistan, Iraq? Hard to tell. They’d be so young, somebody said.

Whether they died in 1943, or 1969, or 2007, they were all so young.

Switch to reality television. 1969. The draft lottery. They put the 366 possible days of the year in transparent plastic eggs, one each for each possible birthday. The put them all into a giant transparent barrel like we see in lotteries these days. They spun the wheel. They drew a date. Those of us born on that date got a number.

My number was 243. I didn’t get drafted. I didn’t go to Vietnam.

By 1969, most of us opposed the Vietnam war. We talked about what we’d do if drafted. Al became a conscientious objector, emptied bedpans for two years. I was engaged to be married, but that was not going to get me out of the war. But a January birth date did.

It turned out later that somebody did a statistical analysis on the draft lottery and the dates. They started on January 1 and threw them in from there day-by-day to December 31. The later birthdays tended to be on top. Or so I read later.

But we didn’t oppose the people, our peers, who fought. Whether it was their choice, or not.

Few in my generation chose to go to war. One who did, who graduated with me from Notre Dame, chose ROTC. Traveling around Europe, he collected military paraphernalia. His father was in the army. His grandfather had been in the army. He volunteered to be a helicopter pilot, and he died in Vietnam. In his helicopter. We weren’t that close, I heard about it later. My memories of him are of a 20-year-old kid having a wonderful time during a year in college abroad, laughing, drinking Austrian beer, learning; as alive as any memory could be. What a terrible loss.

Memorial Day, patriotism, flags, wars. Protests, anti-war, opposition. Memorial Day isn’t about war, or politics, or patriotism, or whatever might be the opposite of patriotism. It’s definitely not about flags. It’s about young people who died, and the people left behind who loved them. And all the people who endured it, risked their lives, went through the hell of it, for whatever reasons.

I lucked out. I won the reality TV of the last half century, the 1969 draft lottery. And I thank God for that. And honor and respect the ones who went, for whatever reasons. And hope that we can end the present war without causing chaos, and more death and suffering; and that we never fight another war again.

Memorial Day, Draft Lottery, Reality TV, Flags

(This was first posted here three years ago.)

I woke up yesterday in Portland (OR), in a condo near the top of W. Burnside. The area has a series of cemeteries, dark green rolling hills, breaking up the otherwise thickly forested landscape. It had rained all night, so there was a thick mist cushioning the quiet hills. It was early Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, not a lot of cars around, very quiet. Through the mist I could see the U.S. flags dotting the graves on the hills. Random patterns. A lot of the graves have flags today.

Later in the day we drove by, commented on the flags. How many from this century, Afghanistan, Iraq? Hard to tell. They’d be so young, somebody said.

Whether they died in 1943, or 1969, or 2007, they were all so young.

Switch to reality television. 1969. The draft lottery. They put the 366 possible days of the year in transparent plastic eggs, one each for each possible birthday. The put them all into a giant transparent barrel like we see in lotteries these days. They spun the wheel. They drew a date. Those of us born on that date got a number.

My number was 243. I didn’t get drafted. I didn’t go to Vietnam.

By 1969, most of us opposed the Vietnam war. We talked about what we’d do if drafted. Al became a conscientious objector, emptied bedpans for two years. I was engaged to be married, but that was not going to get me out of the war. But a January birth date did.

It turned out later that somebody did a statistical analysis on the draft lottery and the dates. They started on January 1 and threw them in from there day-by-day to December 31. The later birthdays tended to be on top. Or so I read later.

But we didn’t oppose the people, our peers, who fought. Whether it was their choice, or not.

Few in my generation chose to go to war. One who did, who graduated with me from Notre Dame, chose ROTC. Traveling around Europe, he collected military paraphernalia. His father was in the army. His grandfather had been in the army. He volunteered to be a helicopter pilot, and he died in Vietnam. In his helicopter. We weren’t that close, I heard about it later. My memories of him are of a 20-year-old kid having a wonderful time during a year in college abroad, laughing, drinking Austrian beer, learning; as alive as any memory could be. What a terrible loss.

Memorial Day, patriotism, flags, wars. Protests, anti-war, opposition. Memorial Day isn’t about war, or politics, or patriotism, or whatever might be the opposite of patriotism. It’s definitely not about flags. It’s about young people who died, and the people left behind who loved them. And all the people who endured it, risked their lives, went through the hell of it, for whatever reasons.

I lucked out. I won the reality TV of the last half century, the 1969 draft lottery. And I thank God for that. And honor and respect the ones who went, for whatever reasons. And hope that we can end the present war without causing chaos, and more death and suffering; and that we never fight another war again.

Moonshot, Columbus, now Woodstock Also a Myth? Say It Ain’t So.

We baby boomers have lost too many cultural icons. Don’t take away Woodstock.

Some nut shot John Lennon. Good journalism — or was it reality? — took away our faith in institutions. We’ve pretty much lost Ford, Chevrolet, General Motors, Wall Street, faith in television news, trust in doctors, air, water … hell, they even took away Christopher Columbus, who went from great explorer to racist exploiter, all in one generation. And now there are people who say the 1969 moon walk was faked. But Woodstock too? What’s left?

I turned 21 in 1969. I was a West coast kid, nowhere near Woodstock, working a summer job between years at college. But, despite the technicality of geography, I was there in spirit just like the rest of that half of my generation that had woken up to new values, wanted to change the world, believed in a new kind of freedom, opposed the Vietnam war, and drank the cool-aid. With whatever symbolism we could find, usually nothing more than long hair and bell-bottom pants, we paraded our loyalty to what we thought was going to be a once-in-history sweeping change in humanity.

The Woodstock media sensation was cultural affirmation.  It was just about a year after the 1968 student uprisings world wide — riots, broken windows, overturned cars, breaking out simultaneously in places as far apart as Tokyo, Mexico City, Paris, Berlin, and cities across the United States. Unlike the year before, though, it was a new kind of uprising, a peaceful uprising. It was validation. Half a million people gathered for three days in a muddy field with no money, no violence, no hierarchy, no police, no authorities, and no problems. And it proved what we’d been saying to ourselves, to our parents, to our teachers, bosses, and anybody else who objected.

It felt like a turning point. After Woodstock, “Hippy” was no longer a bad thing to be.

All of which brings me to this disturbing segment of a fascinating Wall Street Journal video (below) on how Woodstock changed music. Oh the loss, oh the disillusion! Is nothing sacred?

Disillusion number one: marketing? The narration says “the Woodstock nation was born, ushering in a whole new area of marketing. True, I’m all grown up now, I get marketing, my company depends on it like the rest of small business, but jeez, marketing at Woodstock? That’s Woodstock’s legacy?

No, I hope not; but then John Scher, CEO of Metropolitan Talent, explains:

“You had a new brand. It was called Woodstock. And you had music that was associated with a mass movement: A social, cultural, and political movement. Music could be marketed, differently, than it was before. And then you had people who had no soul, just trying to sell product, trying to figure out how they could latch on.”

(If you can’t see the video, click here to go to the source at wsj.com)

But wait: it gets worse. The narrator implies that the legacy was more the movie than the event, and in the movie …

“Not all the performers fared so well.  The order of performers was changed, some were left out, in some cases songs performed elsewhere replaced songs performed at the event.  It all helped to create a memory that wasn’t necessarily true to life.”

And still worse. The five-minute piece finishes with WSJ Music Critic Jim Fusilli:

“There’s a lot of really terrific performances that received no exposure. For the past 39 years, they’ve gotten very little bounce. A lot of Columbia artists didn’t get into the film. A lot of Capitol artists didn’t get into the film, or onto the album. You had a giant label in Warner Brothers, who had possession of the music at Woodstock.

“I don’t remember what actually happened anymore either. I’ve been struggling against the myth of Woodstock. I’ve probably read 10 books, I’ve listened to (I bet your) two thirds of the music that was at Woodstock. I’ve talked to probably 20 people who were at Woodstock or involved in Woodstock. And I don’t really know what happened anymore. The only thing I have that I can trust is the music.

“This is a debate that I have with myself all the time, as to whether things like Woodstock, and the Beatles, and the Stones, will continue into the future. Whether people will have the same affection for them once the social context has changed. And I think it’s hard to say. The truth is that as long as a single hippy remains alive, the myth of Woodstock will be perpetuated.”

Screw historical accuracy. Power to the people. Leave Woodstock alone.

On the other hand, sacred? Who are we kidding? So, in the immortal words of the late great Gilda Radner (another baby boomer, by the way), never mind.

Memorial Day, Draft Lottery, Reality TV, Flags

(This was first posted here last year.)

I woke up yesterday in Portland (OR), in a condo near the top of W. Burnside. The area has a series of cemeteries, dark green rolling hills, breaking up the otherwise thick forested landscape. It had rained all night, so there was a thick mist cushioning the quiet hills. It was early Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, not a lot of cars around, very quiet. Through the mist I could see the U.S. flags dotting the graves on the hills. Random patterns. A lot of the graves have flags today.

Later in the day we drove by, commented on the flags. How many from this century, Afghanistan, Iraq? Hard to tell. They’d be so young, somebody said.

Whether they died in 1943, or 1969, or 2007, they were all so young.

Switch to reality television. 1969. The draft lottery. They put the 366 possible days of the year in transparent plastic eggs, one each for each possible birthday. The put them all into a giant transparent barrel like we see in lotteries these days. They spun the wheel. They drew a date. Those of us born on that date got a number.

My number was 243. I didn’t get drafted. I didn’t go to Vietnam.

By 1969, most of us opposed the Vietnam war. We talked about what we’d do if drafted. Al became a conscientious objector, emptied bedpans for two years. I was engaged to be married, but that was not going to get me out of the war. But a January birth date did.

It turned out later that somebody did a statistical analysis on the draft lottery and the dates. They started on January 1 and threw them in from there day-by-day to December 31. The later birthdays tended to be on top. Or so I read later.

But we didn’t oppose the people, our peers, who fought. Whether it was their choice, or not.

Few in my generation chose to go to war. One who did, who graduated with me from Notre Dame, chose ROTC. Traveling around Europe, he collected military paraphernalia. His father was in the army. His grandfather had been in the army. He volunteered to be a helicopter pilot, and he died in Vietnam. In his helicopter. We weren’t that close, I heard about it later. My memories of him are of a 20-year-old kid having a wonderful time during a year in college abroad, laughing, drinking Austrian beer, learning; as alive as any memory could be. What a terrible loss.

Memorial Day, patriotism, flags, wars. Protests, anti-war, opposition. Memorial Day isn’t about war, or politics, or patriotism, or whatever might be the opposite of patriotism. It’s definitely not about flags. It’s about young people who died, and the people left behind who loved them. And all the people who endured it, risked their lives, went through the hell of it, for whatever reasons.

I lucked out. I won the reality TV of the last half century, the 1969 draft lottery. And I thank God for that. And honor and respect the ones who went, for whatever reasons. And hope that we can end the present war without causing chaos, and more death and suffering; and that we never fight another war again.