Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Why General James Mattis Might Not Run For President

You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right upfront with you, I like brawling.

General James Mattis

None of the widely touted new technologies and weapons systems "would have helped me in the last three years [in Iraq and Afghanistan]. But I could have used cultural training [and] language training. I could have used more products from American universities [who] understood the world does not revolve around America and [who] embrace coalitions and allies for all of the strengths that they bring us."

General James Mattis

If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.

William Tecumseh Sherman

There is a movement to persuade General James Mattis to throw his hat (or maybe it is his cover) into the ring in the Presidential race.  There is some reason to think that he will not take the bait, which I intend to discuss, but the allure of his candidacy deserves some discussion.

Altogether Bad Ass

I have to say there is something attractive to a Mattis run.  Since Jim Webb dropped out after mentioning in a debate that he shot somebody who threw a grenade at him, the altogether bad ass has been lacking in the race

Four Or More Stars In the White House

Actually four (or plus) star generals in the presidency has not been such a bad thing as far as people who rate presidencies rate them.  Washington tends to rate consistently high.  Eisenhower's reviews have been mixed, but as time goes on keep getting better. Grant's reviews tend to be on the low side, but not at the bottom, and Lincoln was a tough act to follow and Reconstruction a knotty problem.

You can get a little pedantic on this.  Grant was the first officer to actually wear four stars, but there was legislation around the time of the Bicentennial to the effect that nobody will ever outrank George Washington, so it is really fair to count him.  Eisenhower of course finished with five.

As it happens there are twelve presidents who were general of some sort or other. Probably the least effective was William Henry Harrison, but you really can't fault him for dying after a month in office.


The guy is creative.  According to the Mattis Way of War he ordered six thousand legos for elaborate sand table drills to represent the various vehicles under his command in the race to Baghdad.  And he studies history.  Some operations in Afghanistan were inspired by Grierson's Raid in the Vicksburg campaign.  There was a novel loosely based on the raid which inspired a movie loosely based on the novel.  That movie is none other than The Horse Soldiers

By the way I really enjoyed the Mattis Way of War, but the formatting on the Kindle was awful, which was a little annoying.

Another View

I thought it might be worth checking in with somebody who had actually been in Afghanistan, particularly given General Mattis's remark about deeper cultural knowledge.  Sam Striker who I wrote about here worked for the Army in Afghanistan
Striker is a social scientist in intelligence field operations. He is attached to various U.S. and NATO combat forces, and his work is about the subtle ways the military can become an enabling force rather than an occupying force.
Here is what Sam wrote me:

GEN Mattis for President is indicative of the times and a reaction of the anti-political establishment sentiment sweeping the nation. As a social scientist, I am interested in Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump succeeding. My reasons are purely academic- I wish to test my hypothesis that the system itself is broken. The best way to do that is to put a highly disruptive non-establishment President in place and gauge the success of his ability to change key policies in his tenure. (Mattis might very well be one of these)

He is an excellent GEN who understands the need to comprehend the cultural nuances of the strange places he may find himself, fighting wars. His quote for deeper understanding is not a new one as commanders in both war theaters have been scrambling for this capability for the last 10 years. Simple cultural and language training are a good start...but not enough. Taking it deeper to understanding the cultural dynamics and the interrelated systems of the area is what is truly needed.

As for Mattis for President-
There are reasons why career soldiers do not usually make good Presidents. For one, the highly focused, linear thinking which makes a soldier very effective does not exist successfully in a political arena where flexibility is essential. Not to say that Mattis isn't smart. I don't know any stupid four-stars; but the system in which he was successful (military) is much different than the system he desires to step into (political).

What he needs to win-
A level of perceived threat to safety and security to America on a relatively high scale.
A clear message of how he will protect America
Assurances of economic oversight to 'reign in the evil rich people'
A popular minority running mate (Condeleeza Rice, Collin Powell)
That last name is kind of interesting as we will see.

Why Might He Not Run?

The answer to that question is in a very interesting book which I reviewed hereWays and Means for Managing Up: 50 Strategies for Helping You and Your Boss Succeed: 50 Strategies for Helping You and Your Boss Succeed by Bill Smullen..  The book is a series of anecdotes about being a proactive subordinate, reflecting the fact that most of us, even if quite successful, will spend much of our career reporting to somebody.

Chaper 32 of Smullen's book is titled Expect The Unexpected.  It so happened that for this anecdote Smullen's boss was none other than Colin Powell.  Smullen had been a special assistant to Powell when Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and they retired from the Army together to begin a phase that Smullern referred to as "two old soldiers trying to sell a book".  They had just
completed the "mother of all book tours" promoting My Ameircan Journey when something new came out of left field.

People were encouraging Powell to run for President.  Smullen puts Powell's reaction this way
...as the general always did when making an important decision, he considered all the factors.  Not the least of these were the uncertainties and unknowns.
He had to consider where the money might come from.  There is something floating around to the effect that there are some billionaires ready to back Mattis, but it is still a tough issue.  There was the issue of timing.  The issue came up in November 1995 for the 1996 election.  Mattis, of course, is on an even shorter fuse.  Staffing was another problem. Powell's staff consisted of Smullen and one other person. And here is what is the biggie for Mattis - policies,  What are Mattis's postions on domestic issues? Or on foreign policy for that matter. Another problem was space.  Setting up a campaign headquarters is not easy.

One concern that Mattis, known as the Warrior Monk, might not share with Powell is concern about the effect that the run would have on his family.  The interesting question a Mattis presidency raises is that of first lady.  James Buchanan faced with that problem drafted his niece Harriet Lane Johnston to handle the role.

The other issue was aspirations.  As Smullern put it soldiers (and I imagine we could generalize this to military men) don't want to grow up to be cowboys or even presidents.
When you don't have the desire to be someone or something in life, you can't fake it.  Call it a fire in the belly, call it a need, call it what you will. If your heart's not in it, it's a tough sell to oneself.
Smullen was able to tentatively address many of the practical aspects of a Powell run.  There were people to put up money and volunteer.  Space could be found.  The fire in the belly was the big issue. Powell's conclusion announced at a press conference that Smullern arranged was:
I do not yet have a passion for political life, because such a life requires a calling that I do not yet hear.

The Might Have Been

I have been corresponding with Bill Smullen on another series in this blog and I kind of teased him about the decision, thinking that we might be in better shape today if Powell had taken another course.  He advised, well more like ordered, me to reread Chapter 32 of this book again and insists that the right decision was made.

I still think it would make a great Harry Turtledove novel.

Here Is A Great Fantasy

Powell is even older than Bernie Sanders, so having him as a VP does not really make much sense.  There seems to be something of a sense that Mattis must be a conservative, because of his somewhat controversial tough remarks.  The evidence is otherwise thin.  The ethic of selfless service that he embodies is certainly not for the Ayn Rand ilk of conservatives and it is not inconceivable that he might find economic inequality troubling.  One of the ways that he economized on logistics in Iraq was to have all marines live the same as lance corporals, which meant everybody got to sleep on the ground.

I probably haven't dug hard enough, but you would think that if Mattis had expressed himself on economic and tax issues, it would not be hard to find. I hope a commenter will embarrass me by pointing to something, but I could find nothing.

So it is conceivable that Mattis would be fine with wealthy Americans paying a lot more taxes and a stronger social safety net like that great socialist Dwight Eisenhower that Bernie Sanders always refers to.

It seems pretty likely that President Sanders would be a one termer and Mattis, born in 1950 is young enough to do two terms after Sanders.  So wouldn't it be something to have him be Bernie's VP pick.  That would really shake things up.

Just a fantasy.


Peter J Reilly CPA after rolling out his tax plan consulted his exploratory committee and determined that he would not run for president, for reasons too numerous to mention.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Left Face - 1970 - The Xavier Class Lamented By Antonin Scalia - Part VI

"Education in Jesuit schools seeks to transform how youth look at themselves and other human beings, at social systems and societal structures, at the global community of humankind and the whole of natural creation. If truly successful, Jesuit education results ultimately in a radical transformation not only of the way in which people habitually think and act, but of the very way in which they live in the world, men and women of competence, conscience and compassion, seeking the greater good in terms of what can be done out of a faith commitment with justice to enhance the quality of peoples' lives, particularly among God's poor, oppressed and neglected."

Ignation Pedagogy - A Practical Approach - Introduced by Vincent Duminuco SJ - Secretary of Education- Society of Jesus - Headmaster Xavier High Scholl in 1970

To motivate young people to be better citizens.

Current Army JROTC Mission Statement

The war divided every significant class, group, and category of American

American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity

Know where you stand and stand there.

Attributed to Father Daniel Berrigan SJ as shortest commencement speech ever - reportedly delivered at Xavier High School.  Likely apocryphal.

A Metaphor

When I think about the struggle that went on at Xavier High School in the final years of it being in the words of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia "a thoroughly military academy", I am reminded of the meta-story behind the Repairman Jack novels by F Paul Wilson, who, as it happens, is a Xavier graduate.

Two vast forces are in a long struggle and our planet is a minor trivial prize.  Much of what we see in history is an illusion as there is a Secret History of people supporting either the Ally or the Adversary.  It is not the eternal struggle between good and evil.  Rather it is the very long struggle between really awful and not so bad.

It is a little grandiose, but it is just an analogy and the notion that Xavier was something of a prize to both the Army and the Jesuits is not without foundation.

In 1968, Xavier's military status had been upgraded to "Institute", which apparently was quite a big deal.  It was probably one of the most visible Junior ROTC programs in the country as its students rather than being walled off in the country commuted to school in uniform earning them the moniker "Subway Commandoes" and played a role in the City's pageantry most notably the St. Patrick's Day Parade. Unlike the optional programs in public schools, like the one in Detroit where Ben Carson advanced to cadet colonel, we wore our uniforms every day and the entire school was part of the Regiment.

The Jesuits

And our new Headmaster would be a leading light in Jesuit secondary education designating Xavier a  a pilot school.  Father Duminuco gave the school speeches about his educational theory referring to education in a dynamic society as opposed to a static society.

Many of the younger Jesuits and quite possibly the headmaster himself thought that the military was inconsistent with Jesuit values. My friend Jerry Snee, a year behind me, whose uncle was a Jesuit brother told me that New York Province Jesuits who were not caught up in the  Xavier tradtition did not have an appreciation for the way the uniforms and the Army integrated with the rest of the education.

As anti-war sentiment and action increased young Jesuits, some of whom were under observation by the FBI (Ironically a not uncommon career for Xavier graduates) were embarassed by teenagers in pseudo Army uniforms saluting them in the street.  The idea of military masses struck some as obscene.

The Army

On the Army side, there was Major Smullen, who was a suberb officer and one of the best teachers on the faculty.  He would go onto a distinguished career retiring as a full colonel along with his boss Colin Powell, helping Powell with his autobiography and then serving as his chief of staff at the State Department.  As Bill Smullen, he is the director of National Security Studies t Syracuse University and the author of several books including Ways and Means of Managing Up, which I reviewed here.

Bill wrote me that in response to the anti-military pressure in the school, his tour at Xavier was extended by a year.  He indicated that among some Jesuits there was substantial support for the program. He was a little reticent about the nature of the opposition. After a second tour in Vietnam, Major Smullen would become the public relations officer at West Point.  The Vietnam War speeded up advancement in the Army, but my impression is that Smullen was young for a major, a sign that the Army recognized his value then.  So keeping him on an extra year is a sign that somebody thought Xavier was important to the JROTC program if not the defense of the United States of America.

The Students Especially This Student

Of course whatever conflicts the grownups running Xavier were having were pretty invisible to us and I'm sure my reconstruction is far from perfect.  Nonetheless, the conflict in the larger culture was becoming front and center to anybody who was paying attention.  And our teachers were requiring us to pay attention.  Mr. Moroney, 2-G's English teacher,  required us to get the Sunday New York Times and go through the magazine, the literary section and the week in review.  And some of our required reading such as Catcher in the Rye and Huckleberry Finn had a subversive tinge to it.

I along with some others spent a lot of time at Barnes and Nobles - THE Barnes and Nobles, not some suburban mall emporium with a built in Starbucks but the original store.  And then there was The Strand.

Sometime in the early seventies, there started to be this thing about not whether you were against the Vietnam War, but when you were against it.  There was a Barney Miller episode where somebody tried to make an impression by saying they were against it in 1968.  Dietrich, the intellectual of the group, countered with 1955.  Anyway for me it was early 1968 or late 1967.

I'm sure it was not early 1967 because I remember being confused when Martin Luther King came out against the war.  I always wanted the forces of good to be aligned and remember thinking that Martin Luther King being against the Vietnam War, where we were clearly the good guys, was as confusing as Robert E Lee, chief bad guy in the Civil War, being considered a national hero.

All that reading was bound to create trouble though.  I subscribed to Avant Garde , which seems like it should have a high collectible value nearly fifty years later, but doesn't because nobody threw them away.  I note that in the first issue January 1968 there is an article about American helicopter pilots randomly gunning down Vietnamese civilians. I actually don't remember that article making a big impression on me.  There is also an article the Kama Sutra, with line drawings that are pretty erotic.  That would probably have caught my 16-year-old attention more.

I can't recapture the intensity of feeling that was going on, but the bottom line was pretty simple. It was not a just war, we were not the good guys.

And as happens throughout American history an unpopular war will bring to the fore pacifist traditions that have always been there. As Christian Appy wrote in American Reckoning

This was no longer Tom Dooley's America. More than at any moment in history, Americans had come to believe their nation as capable of evil as any other.  National identity was no longer figured as a kind sailor "bouncing a brown bare-botton baby on his knee." It was more likely to be represented as a napalm-dropping American jet.  American exceptionalism was on its deathbed.

I really don't remember hearing about Dorothy Day even while at Xavier.  Her Catholic Worker had been a factor for decades and its address is within a mile of Xavier, but it didn't enter into our consciousness as far as I knew (I would learn about her at Holy Cross thanks to David O'Brien, a historian).  We did hear about a Jesuit from the New York Province who was influenced by her.

Feeling A Draft?

I don't think it is easy for anybody to be 16,  Like Holden Caufield you start having to face that there are a lot of phony bastards in the world.  But to be 16 in 1968 at a Catholic military school a few blocks north of Greenwich Village was probably extra confusing and I don't think it was just me.

There was the sexual revolution and then there was the just plain Revolution.  I remember our teachers talking about our "military obligation". It is amazing how quickly that concept had entrenched itself after only a quarter century of "peace time" draft.  As I recall it was six years.  Four years active duty could be followed by two years inactive reserve or two years active duty by four years active reserve. National Guard meant six months active and even longer in active reserve with the prospect of being called out to suppress civil unrest.  I have not gone back and researched whether that was real.  I'm just giving you my understanding.

By the time we were seniors, college no longer seemed like an escape.  It really was just a deferral as we knew that there were college graduates who thought they were avoiding the war in 1966 now in Vietnam.  By the time I was a freshman in college, it seemed like the war would never end.  When asked whether I wanted to go to Washington for the big demonstration to end the war right now in 1971, I said that I would go next year without at all being ironic, but I am getting ahead here.

The existence of the draft forced conscientious young men to consider whether the war was justified. This was compounded for me by the sense that the very small taste of the military that I was getting made me think that I was ill-suited for it.  The impression I have gotten from talking to Xavier graduates who did serve was that I may have been a little off there.  Apparently the chicken shit aspects of military life were actually at a higher level at Xavier than in the real military.  If I made it through basic training, there were probably military jobs I would have done OK at. That is neither here nor there, though.

Being anti-war and anti-establishment satisfied my impulses to challenge authority without getting me in any trouble.  One of the ironies of the period was the popularity of the Thoreau quote
If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
Lots of people were marching to the same different drummer.

Which Side Are You On?

I can't pick the moment when my attitude shifted, but there was one event regardless of how much we noticed it then that was probably most indicative of the great divide.  On May 17, 1968 a group of nine activists broke into the draft board office in Catonsville, MD.  They took 378 draft files and set them of fire with home-made napalm.

The activists were all Catholics.  Among them was a Jesuit from the New York Province - Father Daniel Berrigan.  Father Berrigan's relationship with his superiors in the order was somewhat fractious, but they never threw him out and he never quit.
Through all of this, Dan was fully conscious of being a Jesuit. He was aware it gave him an edge, but an edge that came from the Society's spiritual tradition, especially in the Exercises, and from the responses and respect he got from so many of his brethren. He knew he could be a burden at the institutional level, but that was inevitable. The great moment of course was Pedro Arrupe 's visit to him in Danbury prison. "He knew what nuclear destruc­tion was like ... from Nagasaki ."
That was one of those little details I don't think I learned about until well after my time at Xavier.  Pedro Arupe elected 28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus in 1965 had been in the suburbs of Hiroshima when the atomic bomb fell.

I remember debating the destruction of draft records on the old gym "stairs" (kind of built-in concrete benches around the balcony). We played chess on my miniature magnetic set, a treasured gift from my brother, and talked about the issues of the day or the gossip of the school. One of the kids focused on it being a matter of destroying other peoples property.  My argument was that draft records only served a bad purpose.  I was opposed to the draft not only from an anit-war stand but also on kind of libertarian principles.  The other thing I mentioned was how I had read that draft records were used to persecute homosexuals.  That caused some insulting comments.

Loved That Jacket

I know that I was firmly on the anti-War side by late in my Sophomore year, because of one incident that really sticks in my mind.  One of my favorite articles of clothing in my entire life was my Xavier jacket.  I will never determine the mysterious circumstances under which it vanished some time in the 1990s.  It was pretty ragged by then but then but I kept wearing it somewhat to the chagrin of my family.  The jacket was not part of the uniform.  It was something that one wore when out and about in civilian clothes being true to your school.

The jacket was reversible.  One side was kind of silky light blue with Xavier on the back in maroon cursive.  I never wore that side out.  As I reflect on it, it would have been appropriate if I had belonged to a street gang called the Xaviers. The other side was maroon wool with XAVIER in block light blue letters on the back.  Wearing that jacket I felt like the iconic high school student ready to go have a malt with Archie and Veronica and Betty and Jughead.  Not somebody studying Greek and being taught infantry tactics.

Not being an athlete there would never be a varsity letter to have my mother sew on the jacket, but there was something. Practically over my heart there was sewed my special unit patch - Regimental Supply Corps.  Believe it or not but there is this thing called The Institute of Heraldry responsible for shit like this even for JROTC.  They didn't have the first team on this one.  On a field of gray, black and brown, there were crossed M-14s.  The M-14 was already obsolete and it never became venerable like the M-1 or the 1903 Springfield.  Regardless, I was unaccountably proud of my Supply Corps membership and I thought it was a nice touch.  Keep in mind that I was 16.

A Change In Speakers

I don't know why I was in Central Park that Saturday in late April.  I may have come specifically for that event or it may have been that I had been playing chess and was just following it up with one of my long hikes.  I remember a somewhat obnoxious veteran talking about how ridiculous it was in the Army and that they were required to watch The Gallant Men

One of my favorite show, as it happens, but that was neither here nor there. They hushed him up when the main speaker started.

Originally it was to have been Martin Luther King.  But he had been assassinated earlier in the month.  We had been sent home early due to concerns about civil unrest. Mayor Lindsay was credited with keeping things pretty well under control in New York.  Robert Kennedy's speech is also thought to have been helpful in keeping things calm in Indianapolis.

Things were not so good in many other cities.  According to wikipedia, dozens were killed and thousands injured.  Mayor Daley in Chicago to suppress looting issued a "shoot to kill" order to his PD. When asked about that Lindsay's response was "We don't shoot children in New York City".  Chicago PD would go on to earn some more glory in the upcoming summer.

The Ten Commandments

So the speech was given by Coretta Scott King and included  Martin Luther King's "Ten Commandments on Vietnam"

1.  Thou shalt not believe in a military victory.
2.  Thou shall not believe in a political victory.
3.  Thou shall not believe that they, the Vietnamese love us.
4.  Thou shall not believe that the Saigon government has the support of the people.
5.  Thou shall not believe that the majority of the South Vietnamese look upon the Vietcong as terrorists.
6.  Thou shalt not believe the figures of killed enemies or killed Americans.
7.  Thou shall not believe that the generals know best.
8.  Thou shalt not believe that the enemy's victory means communism.
9.  Thou shall not believe that the world supports the United States.
10. Thou shall not kill.

Yeah, I had to look a lot of this up, but I remember the tenth one like it was yesterday.

I became embarrassed by my patch - the crossed M-14s you know - and even folded my jacket to conceal it.

The Campaign

Senator Eugene McCarthy had challenged Johnson for the nomination in New Hampshire and it didn't take long till I was with him.  In spirit anyway. I think I may have gotten a bumper sticker not that we had a car or anything and definitely a button not that I could wear it on my uniform.  When Robert Kennedy jumped in, I did not switch.  Then there was George Wallace mucking things up with a third party. 1968 was the last time a third party won electoral votes.

On the morning of June 6th, my mother on waking me up told me somebody had been shot.  I knew about that Andy Warhol had just been shot by a radical feminist. But that wasn't it.  It was Robert Kennedy.

My mother made my summer job arrangements again so it was back to Estabrook and Company, but more of a real job rather than an office boy.  I joined the army of "runners" who were a necessary part of a securities system that was still paper based.  Although we were sometimes sent on special missions, the bulk of our duty was to deliver paper stock certificates in the morning and pick up paper checks in the afternoon.  I remember being impressed that NYSE broke the daily volume record set in 1968 - 16 milllion shares.  The back offices were buried in work.

I debated what was going on at the Democratic convention in Chicago with the other  "runners".  More riots as the "Establishment" selected Hubert Humphrey.  Of course, there was generally not a lot of actual running going on.  Most of the guys were pretty old, maybe even older than I am now.  I was designated a "fast man" for the rare occasions when something had to be delivered quickly.

One of the younger guys was a Black Panther, named Fred.  I wish I could recover my conversations with him which were very earnest, but I can't.  I had also landed a  year round every other Saturday job helping Tony Genaro on his bread truck.  On top of that none of the other runners were quite as money hungry as I, so I ended up with a sweet overtime gig.  After the highly trained professional who knew how to run a card punch machine had typed up the days trading, a box of cards had to be carried a couple of blocks to be fed into a reader that transmitted to the home office in Boston. So I got paid to just hang around listening to the clerks trying to get things in balance and reading.  Oh how the money was flowing.

At any rate, it seemed like everybody was pro-war or anti-war. And I was far from the only anti-war cadet that put on the uniform to start Junior year at the still thoroughly military academy on 16th street.

For 1966, the year we first donned uniforms the top pop song for the year had been Ballad of the Green Berets

In September 1968 as we started our third year many of us now corporals, People Got To Be Free was at the top of the charts.

I see now that this will not be the final installment.  There might even be two more.

Peter J Reilly CPA has been neglecting his tax blog of late.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Being Gay In The Sixties In Antonin Scalia's High School

Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their childrens schools, or as boarders in their homes.  They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe is immoral and destructive.

Justice Antonin Scalia (Xavier High School 1953) - dissent in Lawrence v Texas 2003

The mere existence of a Gay-Straight Alliance in a Roman Catholic high school counted as part of the transformation of both secular and religious attitudes toward gays. During the last three academic years, Xavier’s alliance had functioned as a sanctioned school activity, no more or less marginal than the engineering club or the track team. The alliance sponsors activities and events that engage hundreds of the school’s 1,100 students.

New York Times - September 18, 2015

Antonin Scalia when he addressed the Xavier High School JROTC Regiment lamented that military participation had become optional at Xavier.  The Class of 1971, the one after mine, was the last class that had four years of mandatory military participation.  I share Scalia's lament just a bit, but for different reasons, but that is neither here nor there.  This post is something of an interlude in the story sparked by a comment from one of my classmates.

Chagrined as Scalia was about the dimunition of the Regiment I can't help but wonder if he ever learned that Xavier now has a Gay Straight Alliance.  That probably would have made his brain explode.


In relating an incident from a Military Science class, I mentioned that my classmate Dave Posteraro was a "sensitive kid".  Frankly, I meant this as a compliment, because, the few kids I most identified with, which I have taken to calling the Unclique, united by our devotion to Jean Shepherd, prided ourselves on being insensitive.  A remark to me like "Pete, your father hangs out with a bunch of stiffs" (Because my father was, you know, dead) would just roll off my back.

Dave took it differently.  He thought "sensitive" might be a euphimism for gay. And as it happens, Dave is gay.  Back in the day, it never crossed my mind that any of my classmates were gay.  Being in Manhattan, I was hit on more than my share, I think, but those guys seem to be coming from another universe.

So Dave will be discussing what it was like to be gay at Xavier in the late sixties.  I think it might be helpful by way of context to point some things out about Catholic teaching on sexuality and how that translated to ordinary Catholics on the ground, so I have a lengthy sequel.

Being Gay At Xavier In The Sixties

by David Posteraro

One of the more peculiar experiences of gay men of my generation is that we had to “pass” or at least thought we were “passing” as straight.  So when I read the adjective “sensitive” I reacted, well, sensitively.  “Was it that obvious?”, I wondered. “Sensitive” is perhaps the kindest euphemism that one might have used in the 1960’s. I guess I was, “sensitive”, that is.

While Americans were fighting in Vietnam I was fighting my own battle between the dictates of my family, church, school on the one hand and, well, my dick, on the other.  The latter won.

I marvel at your vivid memories of Xavier.  Whether indifference at the time or intemperance in the intervening years I have no such memories of ranks, regiments, or routines. My most vivid memory is escaping 16th street, unbuttoning my topcoat, loosening my tie, pushing my hat to the back of my head, lighting a cigarette and walking through the Village.   “What a lark! What a plunge” to quote Mrs. Wolf.  Those are my happiest memories.  Escape from the rigors of the military for which I had no stomach, escape from the always feared exposure of my sordid secret, and into the Village where the poster advertising “The Boys in the Band” gave me  hope that I was not alone.

I suppose what first is to remember that in 1969, sodomy statutes were still on the books in many states and homosexual conduct between consenting adults was illegal. It would remain illegal and punishable as a criminal offense throughout much of my adult life.  That these laws were rarely enforced made them in some ways even more sinister.  In 1986 these laws were re-affirmed as constitutional in the Bowers case and only overturned in 2003.  From the distance of 2016 it seems unthinkable but nonetheless that was the case.

Much is made of the Stonewall riots a few blocks south of our alma mater but at the time (June 1969) they received little press coverage and what coverage there was tended to be sneering. The New York Post’s article carried the title “Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad”.  The Times was less snide but the story remained buried in the back pages.  I was aware of Stonewall but oddly at the time didn’t identify with the protagonists.  A year earlier, however, in 1968 the play “The Boys in the Band” had opened in the Village and I remember reading the reviews and seeing the posters advertising the play in and around the Village.  It was the first time that I thought, at last, there were other people like me in the world even if the descriptions of their lives – “Show me a happy homosexual and I’ll show you a gay corpse” – were anything but hopeful.

That there were other gay cadets (never thought of that but it does have a ring to it I suppose) was certain.  And since that time I have, thanks again to Facebook, reconnected with some of them.  At the time, however, it wasn’t spoken of and if acted upon was not in my experience.  I think some of us found refuge in the “salon” that Miss Salvati maintained in the library office. I forwarded you the memoir that an earlier student wrote about her.  In retrospect she kindly provided what educators today would call a “safe space” for vulnerable teenagers.  That a bunch of teenagers were allowed to debate the relative merits of Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi in the librarian’s office suggests that she, at least, was in on the joke if the rest of us were quietly oblivious. That she later spent much of her time ministering to men with AIDS at St. Vincent’s tells me she had a large group of gay friends some of whom no doubt were alumini of Xavier.

On the other side I remember a firery sermon/talk from Father McGowen on the evils of masturbation one day that was right out of “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”.  I remember asking my older brother what he thought of the idea that if one masturbated it would make you go crazy.  He said he thought it was the other way around, that if one didn’t . . .

As I wrote earlier, I wrestled with my own sexuality over the next few years.  I entered the Jesuits along with our Bob Grimes who also had gone to Fordham.  Bob is now the Dean at Fordham Lincoln Center.  He and I used to go to the opera in college but I never thought he was gay.  Others in my novitiate class were.  Pages could be written about the Jesuits and homosexuality.  In an era when being gay was disparaged, and same-sex conduct criminal, the Society of Jesus was a safe retreat for those who were incapable of following the path of heterosexual suburban married life. I don’t say this with disdain.  I’ve known many fine men who were gay and Jesuits.  A vocation appealed to our nobler selves as much if not more than any lesser motives.

I’ve since come to learn that there were many gay bars in and around 16th street but I never was in any of them.

I mentioned Stonewall and much is made in queer history of the importance of Stonewall to the LGBT civil rights movement. I also mentioned “Boys in the Band” but for me, and many of my clannish (as you would say) friends, it was AIDS that changed our lives. Randy Shilts surely was giving a nod to Mark Crowley when he titled his 1987 AIDS memoir “And the Band Played On”.  AIDS made us visible. Literally.

What was it like to be gay at Xavier in the late 60’s?  Lonely.

But as soon as I left 16th street, the Village beckoned and even if I didn’t act on any urges at the time I could see other people like me living openly, outrageously, happily, vividly, and knew, that the light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t an oncoming train.

 I envy the comradery and bravado of your time at Xavier. It seems so funny to me that you have such vivid memories compared to my vague-ish recollections.  Good for you! As I’ve said, when I think of Xavier at all it is of escaping into another world outside those halls. Et in Arcadia ego.



by Peter J Reilly

I really appreciate Dave sharing his memories.  The transformation in attitudes towards homosexuality in our culture is really kind of breath taking.  Changing views towards racial minoirites and women may seem equally revolutionary, but you can trace those controversies deeply into the nineteenth centrury and before.  You can point to plenty of people calling for racial equality and womens rights in the 1840s, fringe as they might have been.  Gay rights not so much.

At any rate I have added a bit about Catholic teaching on sexuality and how it translated to ordinary Catholics on the ground to provide some more context.

This Is Now

I checked out the current Cathechism and found the teaching is not at all different in its essentials, just in nuance. For example on the subject of masturbation you get.

By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. "Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.""The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved."
To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability.
As Father Guido Sarducci puts it - "Masturbation is a cheap sin"

On homosexulaity we have:
Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
They soften it up just a bit.
 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
But not much
 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
Being straight is not exactly a walk in the park either.
 Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children. Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young.
And even when you are married there are challenges
Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" is intrinsically evil.
Some Of It Is Lost In Translation

 The Encyclical Humanae Vitae which made it crystal clear that the recently invented birth control pill would not be a Catholic thing came out during the summer of 1968 making it a big topic in our Junior year theology classes and I could probably use it as a way of illustrating how this all translated to ordinary Catholics.

I have often remarked that the Sergeants were the most colorful members of the Xavier faculty only exceeded by Father Harreis, who had deserted the Wehrmacht after helping occupy Austira and made his way to New York in an adventurous manner.  Rather than teach us German, he regaled us with stories that always started "Ven I vas a young boy in Chermany" and involved things like street fighting with Nazis in Munchen and the like.

None of those guys was the most colorful guy I knew though.  That would be Tony Genaro, whom I worked for on Saturdays as a helper on his bread truck.  He was a character and a half.  One time he decided to try to take advantage of my elite Catholic education to clear something up that was troubling him.  The conversation went something like this.

Tony: Pete, what this thing about the Pope and the Pill.
Me: Well the encyclical Humanae Vitae says that you can't us any artificial methods. The rhythym method is OK, but that's it.
Tony: He didn't mean rubbers did he?
Me: I'm pretty sure rubbers are included in the ban, Tony.
Tony: That's ridiculous.  If you don't use rubbers, every time you have an affair with your wife, she'll get pregnant.

What Is Your CAO Score?

So before you get going on how unCatholic gays are, it might be good to think about the typical American straight male, Catholic or not, and contemplate how many of his orgasms say from Sophomore in high school to qualified for Medicare are Catechism Approved.  It is true that on a percentage base, a typical gay man will score 0 and it is conceivable that somebody like Scalia who fathered nine children might be in the high nineties, but that is probably not very common.  Sorry if this is TMI, but I don't think I would break into double digits.

At any rate, the point of this extensive follow up is to indicate that you didn't have to be gay to have a lot of conflicted feelings about sex in a Catholic high school in the late sixties.  On the other hand, it must have been extra hard.

About Gay Straight Alliances

I kind of wondered a bit about Gay Straight alliances.  I think that my tendency to favor the underdog might have drawn me to such a thing.  I remembered being mocked when in discussions of the draft, I mentioned that one of the objections is that it was used to perecute homosexuals.  As it happens, I knew somebody who had been in a GSA, my son William, who will soon have his degree in Creative Writing and oh how the money will start flowing.  Here is what he had to day.
I don't remember anyone being out in the GSA, so we were more about changing minds rather than outreach. We did a day of silence where we carried around whiteboards to talk with and it was supposed to emulate how a gay person risked themselves if they talked, but everyone took it as kind of funny
Dave On Scalia

I suppose we can close with Dave Posteraro's evaluation of of our most famous Son of Xavier, the late Justice Scalia.
So I suppose some final say on Scalia is in order.  He is, after all, the reason we both started down this path of recollections.
As a lawyer, I found him fascinating although I think “originalism” is hogwash as much as literalism and fundamentalism in biblical  Christianity is pure bunk.  But his dissents, at least, were fun to read.  (In fact he makes much more sense in the Lawrence case than the majority).  But as a gay man,  I think he was an absolute tool.


David R. Posteraro is an attorney focusing on intellecutal property law.

Peter J Reilly is a CPA who would rather be a writer, but you have to do something to feed your family,

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

We Didn't Start The Fire - 1970-The Xavier Class Lamented By Antonin Scalia - Part IV

My memoir of the final days of Xavier High School as, in the words of Antonin Scalia, "a thoroughly military academy" has expanded a bit thanks to one of my classmates making a contribution.  In terms of the narrative it fits in here.  We are in late 1967, early 1968.  Dave Posteraro, now an intellectual property attorney, was in the Classics Honors program, so we had all the same classes, except for modern language.  That naturally included Military Science mostly with Sergeant Daley that year.

Dave expands here on a an incident that I only brushed on in the last post.  I think it illustrates the way that growing anit-war sentiment was seeping into the school.

I have no specific memory of the incident you recount concerning me but when I read what you had written I knew instinctively that it had to be true. How I specifically reacted to the Sergeant’s suggestion that an incendiary weapon would be good for “destroying a thatched hut” is lost to me. I would be interested, and I hope more amused than embarrassed, if you can share any detail. The truth of it, however, I don’t doubt.

Francine du Plexis Gray (didn’t see that coming, did you?) was born in Poland in 1930, raised in Paris, and with her mother escaped the Nazis and emigrated to the United States in 1940.  She married the painter Cleve Gray and worked as an editor and staff writer at the New Yorker under Robert Gottleib.  She was also my father’s patient.

In 1967, the same time Ms. Gray was working at the New Yorker, another young staff writer at that magazine published a series of articles about the attack on, and destruction of, a village in Vietnam by American forces. These articles were eventually published by Knopf as “The Village of Ben Suc”.  Ms. Gray had given a copy of the book to my father and I vividly remember when he brought it home. It was a small orange covered book, which he gave to me as I was the most voracious reader of his three sons (and son of Xavier). My father enjoyed talking politics and I can imagine that he and his patient had some conversation about Vietnam at the time. My Dad was (gasp) a Republican but to his credit he was a Javits Republican and initially supported the war.  He eventually became a strong opponent and when, several years later, it was my turn to be up for the draft, told me that if I wanted to go to Canada he would support me.  My number was 254 so we never had to make that decision.

Sometime in 1967, more than a year before the My Lai massacre, I had read about the atrocities of American aggression in Vietnam in “The Village of Ben Suc” and the book had shaped my thoughts on that the ethics (and efficacy) of incendiary bombs and thatched huts.

So a Nazi refugee with a periodontal condition gave a book to her dentist who in turn gave it to his son, a high school student at a military prep(ish) school in Manhattan, who was outraged by what he read and reacted (in some lost in memory way) to the suggestion by his military instructor about burning a thatched hut.

So Dave has added another book to my Kindle backlog.  The destruction of Ben Suc was part of Operation Cedar Falls 
The aim of this massive search and destroy operation was to eradicate the so-called "Iron Triangle", an area located in close proximity to Saigon which had become a major stronghold of the communist National Liberation Front (NLF) or Viet Cong. The operation began on January 8, 1967, and ended on January 28, 1967.
The type of strategy that it represents is probably as old as war - denying the enemy his base of support.  Sherman practiced it in Georgia and Sheridan in the Shenandoah.  And they went on to use it against the Plains Indians.  When Sheridan visited with Germans during the Franco- Prussian war, he advised his host that in order to solve the problem of the Franc-tieurs, the Prussian troops needed to leave the people with only their eyes to cry with. Of course those of us with a classics background, will probably think of Cicero and "Carthago delenda est".

In case you didn't get the reference in the title here it is.

 Peter J Reilly who hopes to become the Tom Sawyer of blogging greatly appreciates contributions.