Wednesday, January 24, 2018
On leadership: I miss dead people.
Who is missing from this generation of US leaders? The men who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. They are missing from the military, from the government, from the business world, from science and from the Arts. Every Vietnam vet I know has told me, unsolicited, that one of the most painful things to bear is the knowledge that the best men they met in Vietnam did not come home.
Perhaps there was a President or two among them. There was likely a handful of Senators and an armful of Congressional leadership who would have emerged from the best of the men who died there. There's also likely some business leaders, some Nobel Prize winners, and some famous Artists who were cut down before they could fully bloom.
This might also shed light on why the women who hold leadership positions in our government these days are often more ethical and of higher character than their male peers. They weren't weeded-out the way the men were in Vietnam. To be clear, I am talking about a wide swath of the older male cohort of the Baby Boomers, my generation, the offspring of the Greatest Generation, the fruit of what will likely be fondly remembered as the Golden Age of the American Experiment, those post-war years when we integrated the schools, passed civil rights laws, provided for the elderly, and criminalized housing discrimination.
These years that saw the rise and fall of JFK, Bobby Kennedy, MLK, and John Lennon seem almost inconceivable today, and I lived through them. There used to be a fundamental ethic in our society, what some called the beloved community, that we should set aside everything we possibly can in the interest of just getting along with people that are different from us. Intolerance used to be deeply shameful.
These men who died in Vietnam would have been roughly the same age as the President, the Majority Leader, and most of the senior power-brokers in both parties. Those who did not go to Vietnam, with few exceptions, are the men who have made public life so coarse in my country over the last two decades. These men who did not die in Vietnam enable this President because he will sign anything for their approval.
This President got five deferments for the bone spurs which 50 years later don't seem to slow down his golf game.
So, I miss them, these men whose names are on that wall, and I didn't even know them, much like I miss the people who died from AIDS in the 1980's. AIDS did not self-select for altruism like military service does, but it's carnage was indiscriminate, it struck down the good as surely as the not-so-good. It struck those who enjoyed connecting with other people, those perhaps greater in empathy, as it was a sexually transmitted disease.
Don't forget the President said that avoiding AIDS was his own personal Vietnam.
So, perhaps the beloved community is slipping away from us because of a war that was based on lies.
What if they had just counted the votes in 2000?
Damn, life is fragile.