My Firsthand Memory of the Day of Infamy

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Iconic pictures of the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor this week marked the 74th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and reminded me of my first-hand experience of that day. I remember being awestruck on a cool Hawaii morning, watching Japanese aircraft fly through Koli Koli Pass on Oahu, strafing Quadrangle D at Schofield Barracks on their way to Pearl Harbor.

Nevertheless, I should explain that the historic attack occurred years before I was born. My “first-hand memory” was watching the filming of Tora! Tora! Tora! about 30 years after the historical event.

As Army journalists in the Public Information Office, our team had assisted the movie crew planning the scene. We had watched a few days earlier as the special-effects team from Hollywood drilled hundreds of tiny holes in the cement block walls of the unoccupied Army barracks quad. The crew placed .22 caliber blank cartridges interconnected with electrical wiring into each hole. The wiring, invisible to the ultimate movie audience, fired off the cartridges in a sequence that mimicked machine gun firing. The machine gun sound effects that accompanied them were added later in the film room. One day after completing the scene, the movie crew removed the cartridges, patched the holes and repainted the walls to match the original color.

That experience was only one of many that our PIO team shared as part of the Army’s representation to the civilian community. Occasionally we helped the TV crew of Hawaii Five-0 by arranging to make an Army roadway available as part of a chase scene. A few of us even wore Army uniforms for walk-on parts, though I never personally experienced that 15 minutes of fame.

With a war raging in Vietnam, my teammates and I were the luckiest draftees in the Army. The 11th Infantry Brigade was training a short walk from our building. We covered the brigade as a news beat, writing stories and taking photos for PR releases or the Army’s weekly newspaper. As the brigade prepared to deploy to Vietnam, we said our goodbyes and good luck wishes to many young men, some of whom would never return.

Every year on December 7, I think of those days in Hawaii. I learned a lot about journalism and many other subjects. Overall it was a good experience. And many years later, it gave me the opening scenario for my novel, “The Victory That Wasn’t”.

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Are 2015 Protests Like Anti-War Protests of the ‘60s?

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Watching the Baltimore and Ferguson protests on cable news recently, I thought of the anti-war demonstrations I covered long ago during the Vietnam years. Certainly that was a very different era, yet there were some striking similarities. In fact all of the protests and demonstrations of the past half-century–even those in Egypt’s Tahir Square and China’s Tiananmen Square—have a lot in common.

Commonality 1: Most protesters have legitimate grievances, though real problems are typically drowned out by noisy opportunists.

Commonality 2: Protests frequently focus on one emotional rallying point that is only a tiny piece of a much larger whole.

Commonality 3: Street demonstrations command maximum media attention, especially when they turn violent, yet they seldom produce the change that protestors want.

Commonality 4: Protestors who demand the arrest of a perceived transgressor, resignation of an official, or end of a standard government policy, seldom offer a viable fix to any problems.

Commonality 5: Politicians, pundits and religious leaders invariably create distorted versions of each situation, blending facts with fiction to advance their own agendas.

Commonality 6: Despite news media reporting, all protestors don’t necessarily have the same issues. Regardless of rhetoric by protest leaders, people often participate for widely diverse reasons, beliefs, and behavior.

In the recent Baltimore protests, the loudest voices seemed to be against the police department. Protest leaders cited the death of a young African American man who died while in police custody. Although the actual circumstances of the man’s death were not totally clear, a death under those circumstances and the sight of a grieving family would always elicit anger and sympathy from any group. Nevertheless the senseless death itself wouldn’t normally have brought hundreds of angry people to the streets.

Protest groups generally focus on the rhetoric of a small number of loud, articulate agitators. However, the overwhelming majority of participants are seldom violent, and aren’t anarchists. Though the loudest voices railed against the police department, Baltimore’s real issues are more numerous and complex.

Most Baltimore protestors are angry about poverty, lack of opportunity and a disproportional percentage of young black men being in jails or prisons. Though the police force is the face of the law, cops aren’t the cause of these very real problems. Poor people arrested for crimes seldom have effective legal representation, and typically go to prison, following quick plea bargaining sessions. The legal system doesn’t have the resources—courtrooms, judges, lawyers, and support staff—to treat all accused people fairly. This is a money issue, and a political issue. Every large city seems to have the same situation, typically created by the same politicians that continue to win elections.

Despite their commonalities with other kinds of street protests, anti-war demonstrations during the Vietnam years eventually succeeded. To write about those events, I chatted with numerous street protestors and realized that their anger wasn’t against the war alone. Nevertheless it’s easy to argue against people dying in wars, so battlefield deaths always made headlines.

Why was the result of the anti-war demonstrations different from the other protests that have followed? Despite the comparatively small numbers of protesters who argued against the war, the protests gained traction, thanks to media attitudes. The press corps, the only source of information before the era of the Internet and social media, covered protest events as though protesters were a monolithic force. Public opinion however, remained evenly split between those who supported the war effort and those who fought against it. Then one horrible event—the massacre at My Lai—disgusted the American public, and created broad-based rejection of the military.

That single event provided a tipping point. My Lai created more backlash than all of the anti-war protests combined. The combination of media, protestors, and an indisputable massacre of defenseless civilians, forced the US Government to accept the Paris Accords and pull out of Vietnam. That’s how the anti-war protestors won.

My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history of the final Vietnam war years, with much better outcomes for all Americans, including behind-the-scenes secrets that changed everything. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX

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It All Began With The War in Vietnam

I wasn’t at Woodstock between August 15 and August 18, 1969. And unlike many young guys of my generation, I never wore a tie-dyed shirt. Instead, I was one of the other guys, wearing US Army fatigues, courtesy of my local draft board.

But I was one of the lucky ones. In fact I was among the luckiest. Thanks to some early experience in journalism and broadcasting, the Army sent me to its Defense Information School, declared me to be a military journalist, and eventually posted me in Hawaii for the remainder of my short Army career.

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Though I never heard a “shot fired in anger,” I was nevertheless connected to the Vietnam War in ways I would never have expected. In my journalism job at US Army Hawaii, I touched people and events that eventually affected the war, and may have actually changed history. As I re-entered the civilian world and pursued a very different career, memories and questions about those Army years have stayed with me.

Until very recently, I never shared that story.  And instead of telling it now, I decided to write a novel combining real life and fiction. The result is a book that’s nearing completion. It’s called “The Victory That Wasn’t.”