"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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.