A long time ago, my sophomore English teacher, Father William Campbell, saw something in my writing and predicted that I would someday become a newspaper columnist. He suggested the perfect title for my column--"Leaves of the Palm." Now that I have a little extra time on my hands I've decided to put Father Campbell's prediction to the test. I'm going to start using this blog site not just to reprint opinion pieces I've published elsewhere but to try to get more of my ideas and opinions out there. Feedback is welcome. To find out more about me, please check out my Web site: www.EdwardFPalm.com (Click on any of the photos below for an enlarged view.)
(One of the few artifacts to survive the arson fire on Feb. 18, 1985. Click on the photo for a better view.)
My Kitsap Sun column this week tells the story behind the first op-ed I published in a major newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle. I was paid $35.00 for it--35 pieces of silver according to some of my fellow Marines. This week's column explains why my op-ed provoked such a reaction, and I thought some readers may want to see what all the fuss was about. Copied below, please find "A Book Burning at Berkeley," as it appeared in the Chronicle on March 2, 1985. --EFP
Callaghan Hall, home of Naval and Air Force ROTC programs on the Berkeley campus, was completely gutted two weeks ago in an arson fire. Last December, an unexploded Molotov cocktail was discovered at the rear of the building.
As the Marine Officer Instructor assigned to the Naval ROTC unit, I found myself waiting outside the charred ruins the next day in hopes of retrieving some of my class notes and records when a young coed with a cherubic face passed by on a bicycle. "I'm glad it burned!" she yelled as she pedaled past.
As an academic turned Marine Corps officer, I wasn't particularly surprised at her attitude. But I think she doesn't understand the role of ROTC in our society or what burned up in Callaghan Hall.
After four enlisted years that included a 13-month stint in Vietnam, I went to college in 1969 under the G.I. Bill and wound up with a Ph.D. in English and American literature. I remember the confrontational days of the '60s and was essentially in sympathy with the anti-war movement. It left me with my own reservations concerning the place of ROTC in an institution ostensibly committed to free inquiry and unhampered self-expression.
The realities of the academic market place forced me to take my opportunities where I could find them, so here I sit, a somewhat frustrated academic turned Marine Corps captain.
By the time I was eligible for an ROTC assignment, I began to see ROTC in a different light. I had seen enough militarism to understand that ROTC is founded on the principle that, given our strong belief in civilian control of the military, we need the infusion of liberally educated officers that ROTC programs on college and university campuses provide.
I believe ROTC provides an important leavening force in a system, the military, all too often marked by the sort of hubris our military monasteries tend to inculcate. Such arrogant overconfidence in our ability to command and control any situation played no small role in getting us mired, and keeping us stuck, in Vietnam long after the folly had become painfully apparent.
(Pontificating aside, I volunteered for this assignment for quite selfish reasons. If I couldn't return to academia as an assistant professor, I could at least get back into the academic environment. And all things considered, I would rather be a Marine officer than one of the underemployed Ph.D.'s driving taxi cabs.")
The reaction of the young student to the destruction of Callaghan Hall reminded me of something written by noted educator and literary critic Wayne Booth. "Too early a moral judgment," he wrote, "is precisely what stands in the way of an education for many young people." [My memory was faulty in this pre-Internet age. It was actually William G. Perry.] I wish I could have pointed that out to that young girl, who had obviously decided we represented evil incarnate, and I wish she could have been there to witness one small part of the fire's aftermath.
I was present when Major Cy McCurdy, a member of the Air Force ROTC staff, recovered the charred remains of his personal and professional library. I imagine that young girl, who was so quick to judge, would have been just a bit surprised to discover McCurdy going through the ashes not of military tomes, but volumes by Herodotus, Thucydides, Gibbon and everyone else who has been anybody in the field of history. He lost hundreds of books.
It was then that the irony and the pity of our situation hit me. We have suffered an old-fashioned book burning--here at Berkeley of all places.
During the '60s I had heard of several ROTC buildings being vandalized and even burned. But the full impact of such acts didn't come home to me until I was confronted by those burned books.
As anyone in the Peace and Conflict Studies Department at Berkeley will tell you, the war process depends on turning others into mere symbols and even actors within our personal psychic melodramas. Therein lies the essential absurdity and tragedy of what seems to have happened on our campus.
That young lady should be ashamed of herself.
Reflections on the Current War and on the All-Volunteer Force
Maybe I am indeed what a university administrator once termed me, an avis rara. I am a former enlisted Marine, a Vietnam veteran, and a retired Marine officer who believes we did indeed start "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time" in invading Iraq. An America that starts wars, that keeps political prisoners, and that tortures people (and waterboarding is indeed torture) is not the America I grew up in. It would seem that we as a nation have learned none of the lessons of Vietnam, and that pains me--so much so that I've been moved to try to share my thoughts and opinions on how we are going wrong in a series of op-ed pieces. I've also has some success recently in placing commentaries on the war and the All-Volunteer Force with National Public Radio's All Things Considered. I intend to include the introductions and the web site links to those pieces. Please feel free to e-mail me and let me know if you find my writing insightful or perhaps inciteful.
My NPR Commentaries
[Click on the links to listen.]
Spending Your Christmas in a War Zone by Ed Palm [3 min 29 sec] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6632117 All Things Considered, December 15, 2006 · Commentator Ed Palm spent two Christmases in Vietnam during the war. During the first, he got to go to the Bob Hope USO show. But despite the good cheer, Palm says he left sadder than he arrived. ........................ Knowing Haditha Could Happen; Wishing It Didn't by Ed Palm [3 min 47 sec] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5614040 All Things Considered, August 3, 2006 · The Associated Press has reported that an initial U.S. military investigation supports allegations that U.S. Marines deliberately shot 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha last November. The Haditha case is one of a string of cases in which U.S. troops are accused of deliberately killing civilians in Iraq. Commentator Ed Palm is a retired U.S. Marine major. He says that he would like to think that Marines were not capable of this kind of killing. At the same time, he knows from first-hand experience how it might happen. ............................. Vietnam Vet Sees Changing Receptions to Service by Ed Palm [2 min 33 sec] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5455027 All Things Considered, June 6, 2006 · Commentator Ed Palm, a veteran of the Vietnam War, says that for many years, Vietnam veterans were sent the message that they should not talk about their experiences. But that has changed. He says that since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, all service members are lionized as heroes, regardless of whether they did anything heroic. .................................. Problems with an All-Volunteer Force by Ed Palm [3 min 16 sec] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5157068 All Things Considered, January 13, 2006 · Commentator Ed Palm is a retired Marine officer who lives in the Seattle area. He's also a Vietnam veteran. Palm sees a disturbing new trend in the all-volunteer force. ................................. Draft Left Fighting of Wars to Younger Soldiers by Ed Palm [3 min 58 sec] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5066475 All Things Considered, December 22, 2005 · Commentator Ed Palm says when he fought in Vietnam, most of the men he served with were 19 or 20 years old. It seems to him that more of the troops in Iraq are older. He says this is one advantage of the Vietnam-era draft: It kept the business of fighting wars to the younger men. .................................................................
Women Warriors: Shouldn't We Talk About This?
Friday, January 18, 2008 Seattle Times By Edward F. Palm Guest Columnist Special to The Times
In one of the most affecting scenes in Homer's "Iliad," a condescending Hector, knowing he is about to face the indomitable Achilles in single combat, in essence, tells his distraught wife Andromache not to worry her pretty little head because "War shall be the business of men."
The scene is affecting for its dramatic irony. We the readers know, as Andromache would have known, and as I believe Homer knew, that war has never been and never will be just the "business of men." Women have always supplied the sons and husbands and lovers who fight and die — and in Homer's day and beyond, of course, women were typically counted among the spoils of war.
I am reminded of this passage every time I hear that another woman warrior has been seriously wounded or killed in Iraq. The irony is that women are still barred by law from serving in direct combat roles, but the distinction long ago became meaningless with so many women assigned to direct combat-support roles in an unconventional war with no front line.
Personally, as a Vietnam veteran of a certain age, I don't have a problem with women serving in combat. I look at this development in the same way that former New York Mayor Ed Koch viewed allowing women to join the Fire Department. In his book, as long as a woman could carry a 180-pound mayor down a ladder, Koch observed, she was qualified. If a woman can hack the training and wants to do it, then so be it.
What surprises me is that we, as a culture, have evolved to this point with so little discussion or debate.
I remember, for instance, all the controversy when women were first admitted to the service academies in 1976. One pundit on the conservative side predicted that the American people would react with shock and outrage when the first servicewomen come home in body bags or missing limbs. That pundit was wrong. From Jessica Lynch onward, a lot of women have come back seriously wounded and maimed, others have been killed, and there has been nary a ripple of protest based on gender from the American public.
Clearly, the question of whether women can or should serve in combat has been overtaken by events. The fact is, women are doing the job and doing it well. We might as well amend the law to reflect the current reality.
But the unanswered question, it seems to me, is why the American public has been so accepting of this development. Are we now acknowledging that women can and should be allowed to do it, or are we merely willing to relegate military service to whoever will do it, regardless of gender? The Army's current recruiting difficulties suggest the latter.
Either way, one thing is certain: War is no longer the business of men. Or, to fall back on a retrograde advertising slogan of some years ago: "You've come a long way, baby."
The problem is, you seem to have gotten to this point largely by default.