The Chaplain’s Assistants Who Won the Cold War


“To most people, a veteran was a veteran – all were the same, whether one man had survived the deadliest combat or another had pounded a typewriter while in uniform.” – Eugene Sledge, World War II hero featured in the HBO series, The Pacific.

At last word, HBO had no plans to produce a sequel to Band of Brothers and The Pacific.

A proposal for a third series about Air Force typists – the chaplains’ Assistants who played a crucial role in preserving freedom in the 1960s – has been ignored by Tom Hanks.

The five minutes of out-takes from forgotten screen tests are unlikely ever to be seen, but a transcript has been rescued from the cutting room floor.

Scene 1. Close-up of a 70-something, bespectacled, goateed man, his receding gray hair covered by a worn baseball cap. He is looking at an off-screen interviewer, not at the camera. The man is struggling with his emotions.

 “I don’t know if the people back in the States ever realized the sacrifices the men and women in uniform made in the Cold War,” he is saying. “It was worse in the chapel than anywhere.”

 Cut to a plump man with a shaved head and pink face.

 “Chaplains had to have their sermons typed on time or they couldn’t preach on Sundays. And their handwriting was real terrible. One time I typed, ‘Jesus Galls Us’ and the chaplain read it out loud. The commander almost had us taken out and shot.”

 Cut to a third man wearing an obvious toupee. He has tears in his eyes.

 “I had to type the chapel bulletins and take the masters to the base print shop. If the printer was late, there were no bulletins. Without bulletins, the services fell apart. A goddamn mess.”

 The goateed man.

 “One time the bulletins didn’t show up for the Christmas Eve service. The chaplain was calling out Easter hymns. His typist collapsed under the stress – spent three months in the hospital in Lakenheath. Even after he got out, he was never the same.”

 The shaved-headed man.

 “No one thought any less of him, though. We understood. We’d all been there.”

 The toupee-wearing man.

“The chaplain was charged with protecting the mind, body and soul of the whole goddamned aerospace team. You know – the men and women who was protecting the country from the goddamn Red Menace.”

 The goateed man.

“It was our job to keep the chaplain prepared, intellectually and spiritually. The typewriter was our weapon in that war.”

 The shaved-headed man.

 “You quickly learned that the typewriter was your friend. Your only friend, really.”

 The goateed man.

 “After a while you got so you knew every bell and key on your Underwood. You could field strip it, lay all the pieces on your desk, and put it back together inside of 20 minutes.”

 The toupee-wearing man.

 “Some guys took their typewriter to bed with them.” (He stifles a sob and tries to wave the camera away.) “It got so goddamn lonely.”

The goateed man.

 “The typewriter was an essential instrument in the Cold War. We used to sing this song while we marched: ‘This is my weapon (gesturing to a typewriter), this is my gun (nodding self-consciously toward his groin), one is for working, one is for fun.’” (After moments of silence he blinks self-consciously into the camera.)

 The shaved-headed man.

 “I don’t think any of us really knew how to type right – most of us were two-finger hunt-and-peckers.”

 The goateed man.

“We didn’t get all our fingers into play, but we were fast.”

 The toupee-wearing man.

 “We were Goddamn fast.”

 The Goateed man.

 “We knew we had to be fast. If we didn’t have the sermon typed, the chaplain couldn’t preach. If the chaplain couldn’t preach, the morale of the Aerospace Team was in the toilet.”

 The shaved-headed man.

 “You know what that means.”

 The toupee-wearing man.

 “Might as well goddamn surrender.”

 The goateed man.

 “But we were very seldom late with those sermons. We didn’t think much about it then, but our typewriters and us were a helluva team.”

 The shaved-headed man.

 “I like to think of what one of my buddies said to his grandson when he asked, ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the Cold War?’ And he replied, ‘No, I wasn’t a hero, son. But I served with typists.’”

 The goateed man.

(Holding up his two index fingers.) “Look at the callouses. These two fingers did a helluva lot of pecking for my country.”

 The Shaved-headed man.

 “Was it worth it? Hell, yeah, it was worth it. Next time you’re at a Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day parade and you see a clerk-typist in uniform, buy him a beer.”

 The toupee-wearing man.

 “Say, hail, typing guy. Your carriage return bell was the goddamn ding of freedom.”

 End of scene 1.

Addendum. True story: My 11-year-old grandson asked his father what I had done in the Air Force. My son-in-law replied, “I think Grandpa sat at a desk using a typewriter.

My grandson blinked in puzzlement.

“What,” he asked, “is a typewriter?”

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Guns and the Yahootude

By Philip E. Jenks


January 7, 2018 – Less than a week into his term as Westchester, N.Y., County Executive, George Latimer issued an executive order banning gun shows in government buildings in the county.

Almost immediately one of Latimer’s Facebook trolls called him a hypocrite for claiming to support the Second Amendment while opposing the public display and sale of guns. Unperturbed, Latimer replied, “The right to own a gun is protected. The right to have a gun show in a public building is not.”

Probably Latimer’s decision is supported by the majority of his constituents, many of whom are appalled by the extremes the gun lobby will go to make automatic rifles and concealed weapons available to all.

Most Americans believe stricter controls should be placed on guns and gun ownership but these proposals have been consistently blocked by Republicans in Congress. Recent gun-related tragedies have been ignored by politicians except to express prayers and sympathy for the victims. it is a wonderment that Senate Republicans feel entitled to defy the wishes of the people they are supposed to represent. In my opinion, they are underestimating their presumed base, the Yahootude, into which I was born seven decades ago.

And I have no doubt that my fellow Yahootudians think allowing terrorists, the mentally ill, and domestic abusers to buy guns is a dumb ass idea. And so is the idea of selling guns to anyone who wanders into a gun show.

The Yahootude is a distinct sociological group identified by Garrison Keillor, and I’d like to think most Americans – in red states and blue states – are as proud of their Yahootudinal roots as I am.

I’d like to offer a friendly word of advice to Republicans who think they can take us for granted. Despite what you think, we can tell the difference between responsible gun use and dumb ass ideas, and someday we are going to clarify the differences at the polls.

My family has been prominent in the Yahootude since Colonial days in the U.S., and my ancestors have included politicians, soldiers, sailors, farmers, merchants, and teachers. My antecedents – women and men – could quickly prime, load, and discharge a musket when a turkey dinner winged overhead or a fox approached the henhouse.

But despite the family familiarity with firearms, I should disclose that my Dad – a WWII infantry lieutenant with an Army marksman’s badge – was ambivalent about guns.

A veteran of the bloody Buna campaign in Papua New Guinea, Dad had little patience with gunplay, imaginary or real. One Christmas when my brother Larry and I were very young, he bought us cowboy hats and Roy Rogers cap pistols, but he insisted that we not point them at each other. Larry and I exchanged conspiratorial glances and shoved the muzzles into each other’s noses.

As I grew into early teenage, Dad and I had our share of Oedipal disagreements, but the only thing he absolutely forbade was my participation in an organized war game in the woods between Cedar and North streets. (There were a lot of trees and few streets in Morrisville, N.Y.)

The game was harmless enough, actually a 1950s precursor to paintball without the paintballs. About 20 of us would divide into two warring teams. You knew you were dead when a soldier on the opposing team saw you hiding in the trees and shouted,“Pow! Phil!” and the rules required that you lay in the pine needles until the war was over. For some reason that eludes me now, I thought it was a lot of fun. But the very idea of a war game gave Dad a chill, and in unequivocal terms he declared me a conscientious objector.

Later, when I learned some of the details of his combat experience in the New Guinea jungle, I understood, but at the time I thought he was being arbitrary and reactionary.

Even so, guns were not a problem per se to Dad’s way of thinking – only the frivolous and stupid use of them.

When I turned 14 and expressed an interest in hunting, he didn’t flinch. He pulled out the .22 rifle his father had given him and said it would be perfect for target practice and small game. Then he went to the local chapter of the National Rifle Association and got himself credentialed as a gun safety instructor. He took me up to the woods and set up paper targets, all of them mounted on trees so thick the rounds could not penetrate them. Then, before he gave me the rifle, he presented me with my first NRA card and told me to read the gun safety instructions on the back. The rules included logical precautions like keeping the gun unloaded when it wasn’t in use, and – loaded or unloaded – never pointing it at anything you did not intend to shoot. The NRA also insisted that you keep your finger off the trigger when you weren’t about to shoot, to know your target and what was beyond it, and – important in our neck of the woods –never climb a fence with the gun in your arms. Modern updates to the rules include wearing goggles and ear protection when you fire a gun, but that never occurred to us in 1960.

As time went on, Dad offered the same training to all my brothers and to my sister. I took the .22, and later a 20-gauge shotgun, into the woods a few times before my interests turned to more effete pursuits. I rarely shot an animal, not because I didn’t shoot at them but because rabbits and pheasants (and rats at the dump) are artful dodgers. On the rare occasion that I shot something, even a rat, I found it a nauseating experience and I quickly lost interest in the whole gun thing.

Looking back, I’m struck by Dad’s haunted expression in a photo that was taken when he bagged a deer during a hunt with his principal and fellow teachers. Dad had just mustered out of the army and was readjusting to civilian life. He had no interest in shooting a living creature, but his instincts as a sharp shooter must have taken over. God knows what terrible memories it brought back.

Dad’s training did serve me well when I joined the Air Force. I was comfortable around the M-1 carbine and could shoot it accurately enough to earn the Air Force expert marksmen’s ribbon – the only decoration I earned for doing something other than showing up. But by the time I had spent hundreds of cold hours on guard duty on a USAFE base in England, my interest in firearms began to ebb.

Finally, one incident turned me into an anti-gun person.

When I was 19 I used to sit next to a major’s wife on bus trips to London. At the time I regarded officers’ wives as an untouchable and certainly unattainable species, but she was young, beautiful, and spoke softly with a seductive Alabama accent. She may have sensed the crush I had on her because she talked constantly about her husband, an F4C fighter pilot. “He’s just mah AH-ll,” she’d say, batting her eyelashes, and I’d try not to look jealous. She was openly flirtatious with other airman, too, and it crossed my mind to wonder what her husband thought about that. A few weeks later, the major reported he accidentally shot and killed her while cleaning his pistol. I don’t know how you could accidentally discharge a revolver if the cylinder is open for cleaning, but the brass dismissed the event  as a tragic mishap. Even then, I didn’t blame the gun. I blamed the damn fool who didn’t follow simple NRA guidelines.

Growing up in Madison County, N.Y., was certainly a gun-intensive experience. In the 18 years I spent there, I learned that guns were fun when used right, and bad when used stupidly. And they were used stupidly at times. During hunting season, we’d hear stories of errant rounds whizzing past people’s heads or into their laundry because distant hunters weren’t following NRA rules. And Uncle Bob (the deer hunter in my family) would warn us with widening eyes not to shoot a gun straight into the air no matter what we were celebrating, because the damn bullets would come right back at you with the same velocity. He never told us how he knew that.

As a senior member of the Yahootude, I’d like to lay out some views I think all Yahootudians have in common. We don’t think everyone should be allowed to have a gun. We think persons who buy guns should be able to prove their mental stability, no matter how long a background check may take. We don’t think anyone should own an assault weapon so powerful that, even if it were used to defend a home, the bullet could pass through the home invader, the living room wall, the house next door, and kill any living creature in its path. And we don’t think any one person should accumulate enough guns to attack a small army, because that’s what they may end up doing.

We hold these views as self-evident because, unlike the NRA-owned members of the Senate, we have been keeping an eye on the toll guns have taken  in our country.

And we’re not the only ones. Even before recent gun rampages, millions of non-Yahoo Americans favored more effective control of guns.

According to the Pew Research Center, 79 percent of Republicans and 88 percent of Democrats favor background checks for gun shows and private gun sales.

Seventy percent want a federal database to track gun sales, and 57 percent want a ban on assault style weapons.

Almost no one thinks it’s a good idea to allow terror suspects to buy guns.

There are reasons to be angry at Republicans who think they can defy public opinion with impunity and among the most important are the 58 persons killed and 546 injured last October when a gunman opened fire on a music festival in Las Vegas. Also the 49 LGBT people who were shot dead in Orlando by a deranged man who had no difficulty purchasing a Sig Sauer MCX assault rifle.

The Las Vegas and Orlando massacres, which took place months after 9 members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were shot in Charleston, S.C., are not isolated events. According to a count by the Washington Post, 869 people have been killed in 126 mass shootings since Aug. 1, 1966, when ex-Marine sniper Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother, then climbed a 27-story tower at the University of Texas and killed 14 more people before police shot him to death.

But even these events pale in comparison to how guns are used every day in America.

Every day, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 297 people in the U.S. are shot in murders, assaults, suicides, suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention. Every day, 89 of those people die from their wounds.

Every year, according to the Brady Campaign, 108,000 people are shot in America in murders, assaults, domestic violence, accidental shooting, and police actions. Some 32,500 die, and 75,960 survive their wounds.

The rate of murder with guns is 25 percent higher in the U.S. than in other developed countries, according to the American Journal of Medicine. An American is ten times more likely to be killed by guns than persons living in other developed countries.

But those of us who grew up in the sticks – in the Yahootude –understand that guns were an essential tool in the building of the nation, and guns continue to be a wholesome and enjoyable instrument for recreational activities like hunting, skeet shooting and target practice.

We may even try to argue the legal nuances of the Second Amendment with each other, although most of us understand that when Mr. Madison wrote it he was thinking about state militias, not hunters.

But don’t be fooled by the way we wear our baseball caps backward or smear oil on our foreheads when we lube our cars. We’re not dumb.

And most Yahootudians I know will tell you to your face: allowing any damn fool who walks into a gun shop  to buy concealed weapons and assault rifles with little or no background is a dumb ass idea.

So stop writing us off. We know dumb ass when we see it. And the time may come when we’ll start expressing our views with our votes.


The author is a resident of Port Chester, N.Y.

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Lost in the White House 1996


January 1, 2018. New Year’s Day is a time of reminiscing and I came across this December 2009 essay in my blogs. It tells the story of a happy experience in the White House in 1996. The Divine M and I met Hillary and Al and Tipper and wandered unsupervised in the historic halls. Back then, the White House was a venue of intellectual stimulation and hope. I only wish I had thought to warn Hillary to be careful with her emails.

When Michaele and Tareq Salahi appeared unexpected (at least by the Secret Service) at President Obama’s first state dinner last week it ignited an international headline frenzy.

The Salahis now say they were invited to the bash, despite White House insistence that they were not on any list of invitees. But admid the confusion, one thing is clear: the couple’s surprise visit to the Obamas remains big news.

For my spouse Martha and me, however, the Salahi’s caper sparked a sense of deja vu. We, too, have wandered unscripted through the ornate corridors of the White House.

What distinguished us from the Salahis is that no one noticed. Sure, our sober business apparel was not as attention-getting as Michaele’s stunning red sari or Tareq’s opulent tux. Photographic evidence provided by the White House suggests we could have been mistaken for Congressional aides or Calvary Baptist Church ushers. Too, it was a different era – first term Clinton Administration – and Plebian populists may have been allowed to wander the White House at all hours. But the Divine M and I contend that we crashed the White House just as brazenly as the Salahis. Even if it didn’t start out that way.

It all began on a chilly, gray day in late winter 1996 — March 4, to be exact. Martha was the official invitee to the White House. As communications director of Church Women United (CWU), she and other ecumenical leaders – including National Council of Churches General Secretary Joan Brown Campbell – were invited to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to accept the First Lady’s thanks for their support of V-Chip technology that controls what children see on television.

I had never heard of V-Chip nor was I invited to be thanked for it. I was, as was often the case in those years, merely tagging along with my spouse on interesting junkets. Even so, when M asked if I would like to tag along to the White House, I weighed the alternative – visiting the mustache wax exhibition at the Smithsonian – and said yes. She called a mysterious contact at the White House to ask if she could bring an escort and I was quickly added to the list.

I can’t remember where our hotel was, but I recall walking most of the way to the White House. I also remember standing next to Joan Brown Campbell at the gate where our IDs were checked. Joan, a friend of ours, was also a front-rank Friend of Bill’s, so she had been to the White House countless times and was probably not as excited about it as I was.

Martha, too, was calm. Her role as director of communication for CWU had placed her in frequent contact with the First Lady’s staff and she had also once stood in the rose garden with Bill and Nelson Mandela. In 1977 I had been among a kajillion religious journalists invited to the Carter White House, but that wasn’t quite enough to qualify as a grizzled old White House hand. The truth is, I was excited.

Thirteen years on, I can’t remember details about the layout of the White House. The invitees were escorted down a historic hallway into what could have been the State Dining Room. First Lady Hillary Clinton, dressed Superwoman-like in a colbalt-blue suit, welcomed the group and introduced Vice President Al Gore and Tipper Gore, both tireless V-Chip advocates. (Bill was not there.)

Hillary thanked everyone for their courageous support for the device that enables parents to prevent children from seeing television violence while I silently fretted about the fate of beloved visions of Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner blood-bouts.

With everyone properly thanked, the First Lady invited us back down the hall (perhaps to the East Room) where a sumptuous coffee break had been laid out before us — long tables laden with silver coffee urns, silver trays filled with scones, cookies, chocolate truffles, cakes, sandwiches and assorted beverages. The spread was so splendid that I wondered if the taxes M and I were filing jointly that year would pay for it.

But before I could stuff my pockets with cookies, we were invited to a receiving line to shake hands with persons I assumed to be future presidents of the United States, including Hillary and Al. We exchanged a few words with Al and Tipper, prompting me to reflect briefly on what historians would conclude if they could record all the meaningless banality that is exchanged between political leaders and their constituents. Hillary, who often seems austere and distant on television, seems gracious, warm and even a bit vulnerable when she’s taking your hand. Martha has met Hillary on a number of occasions and I thought Hillary recognized her as they shook hands. Or perhaps the First Lady was simply recognizing a woman with a smile very much like her own.

As soon as we got through the reception line, the crowd of V-Chip radicals dwindled away. Hillary, Al and Tipper disappeared to wherever politicians go when their duty is finished and Martha and I found ourselves alone in a darkened White House hallway.

I wished I had filled my pocket with cookies, but then I had a more pressing thought. “I wonder if they have a bathroom in this place,” I mused. “In the White House?” Martha replied. “What do you think?” I looked around and saw a young White House staffer walking toward us.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Is there a bathroom?”

“Just down the hall,” the young woman said.

“Are we allowed …?”

“Of course.” And she disappeared.

Martha and I exchanged dubious glances and we began inching our way down the empty corridor. We found the bathroom and pushed open the door. It wasn’t the bathroom equipment that was impressive — the commode and sink probably dated back to the Truman renovation of the White House in 1948 — but the wallpaper looked like it would have added dignity to the Lincoln bedroom. “We’ve got to take pictures,” Martha said, pulling a camera from her purse.

We stood brazenly in front of the commode and flashed toothy Rooseveltian grins, photographing each other in historic stances. “Oh, look,” Martha said, pulling a paper towel out of a glistening silver dispenser. The towel was embossed with the presidential seal. We stuffed out pockets with paper towels (one of which is still suitably framed at home). Outside, the long hallway was dark and deserted. “How do we get out of here?” I asked Martha, whose sense of direction is as bad as mine.

We walked slowly so as not to attract the attention of any presidential ghosts in the corridor. Where was the staff? Where were the tourist guides?

We started peeking through open doorways into rooms that were strangely familiar. Portraits of presidents and first ladies hung on walls. A red room. A blue room. Just as I began to think they had locked-up the White House for the night, we wandered into what could have been the White House green room. I’m not sure about the color, but I recall a portrait of Benjamin Franklin hanging over a white fireplace, and a smaller portrait of Dolly Madison on the adjoining wall.

As we were studying the portraits, a bored young man wearing a pressed suit and an earphone appeared at the door. “You’re really not supposed to be in here,” he said.

Busted, I thought. But Martha quickly handed him her camera. “Would you take our picture?” she asked, flashing a Hillary Clinton smile. “Um. Oh, sure,” he said. Martha and I grinned again and were immortalized in film in an empty White House room.

The young man led us to a glimmer of light at the end of the hallway. We walked out the door into the cold, gray air.

They say the ghost of Abraham Lincoln walks the White House hallways. We didn’t see him, but we got to see the same things he sees. The White House, dark and empty, devoid of people.

March 4, 1996. The day the Divine M and I crashed the White House.

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wenchingandwranglingThe debauchery arc of the universe is long, and it bends toward boys.

At least in our dreams. Even Jimmy Carter said he lusted in his heart, but the only surprise there is that Fox News never found out with whom.

Wicked temptation is particularly rife in adolescence when hormones blaze like bonfires and fantasies of sex recycle every five minutes like Liberty Insurance commercials. But the embers of lust never dim and most of us boys learn early that it’s important to keep our carnal urges under control. My mother’s social code, imparted early to my three brothers and me, was be nice and keep your hands to yourself. As we grew older and left the confines of the United Church of Morrisville, N.Y., we wrote our own codicils to the code. I like the way New York Times columnist Charles Blow puts it: “Consenting adults should feel free to express their attractions as they please without shame or guilt. Just play safe.”

Blow wrote those words less than a month ago amid a deluge of news stories about men who never learned to keep their hands and penises to themselves. In his November 19 column, “This is a Man Problem,” Blow added his own codicil: “But, there is no ‘sex’ without consent. To believe that is a twisting of terminology . . . Rape is not sex; it’s rape. Unwanted touching is not sexy; it’s assault. Sexual advances in a professional environment, particularly from a position of power, are highly inappropriate and could be illegal.”

For weeks following reports that film mogul Harvey Weinstein is an abuser and rapist, thousands of courageous women have decided they have had enough. Inspired in part by the #MeToo social media movement, women no longer hesitate to confront their abuser(s) for fear of losing their jobs or not being believed.

To be sure, the movement has led men to examine their own past to count the number of times their rushing hands and roaming fingers crossed consensual lines. In a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, comedian Patton Oswalt spoke for a lot of us guys:

I’ve had to sit down these last few weeks and I’m going through my head – and I hope every other guy is doing this, of not even, like, physical acts — but, “Was there a remark that I made? Was there a way that I put things?” You’re just constantly now thinking of that. I see a lot of people saying, “Oh what, men are now supposed to triple-, quadruple-, quintuple-think everything that they say and do?” And you go, “Well, clearly women have had to double-, triple-, quintuple- think and say everything that they do, and look at all that they can achieve and do with that load on them! Can we maybe take a little bit of the slack? Will that be OK, Mr. Alpha Male?

Brother Patton makes a good point because confession is good for the soul, not because God is unaware of our bad behavior but because it makes ourselves aware of how far we have strayed. The Psalmist explains it this way: (Psalm 119:26-29)

When I told of my ways, you answered me;
teach me your statutes.
Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
Put false ways far from me;
and graciously teach me your law.

Indeed many of the men accused of predatory behavior have confessed their sins and apologized to their victims.

But there are notable exceptions. The nation’s most visible predators have flatly denied their behavior, despite the word of numerous very credible accusers. Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) resigned without apologizing to a former staff woman after dismissing her claims of abuse as lies.

And the nation’s president continues to dismiss his several accusers as liars. How long he can do this remains to be seen because he may have to face at least one of them, Summer Zervos, in New York State court where he would be deposed under oath.

Yet Mr. Trump blithely denies a long string of abuse accusations by different women and so far the issue of his moral turpitude has not dismayed his small but loyal Republican base. Mr. Trump’s confidence in his dwindling base has led him to support Alabama Judge Roy Moore, an accused serial pedophile, for a U.S. Senate seat. When supporters of Trump and Moore are asked why they continue to support the two accused malefactors, the common reply is, “What about Bill Clinton?” President Clinton, who has confessed and begged forgiveness for his sins, was impeached for lying under oath but not removed from office.

Most logicians will dismiss as nonsense the idea that it’s okay for Trump to be a sexual predator because Clinton was one, too.

But perhaps it’s understandable that Trump supporters in the deploratude think like that because the history of presidential sexual misconduct goes way back.

According to historian James Thomas Flexner, it began with the youthful flings of our first president.

“Although (George Washington) drank and gambled and (we gather) wenched as did his officers, he was known as a stern disciplinarian in military matters,” Flexner wrote in 1965 in the first of his six volume biography.


The use of “wenched” as an intransitive verb is an effort to shift the onus from the great wencher to the irrelevant woman with whom he went wenching.

If we accept the second dictionary definition of “wench” as “prostitute,” it’s a case of boys being boys.

If, however, we accept the dictionary’s first definition of “wench” as “servant girl,” to use her as a means of wenching sounds more like boys raping.

No one knows whether young George’s women were willing partners, but it doesn’t really matter. Even as a young officer, he was a white aristocrat who probably considered farm and pub girls as his inferiors. He knew he had power over them whether they liked it or not.

George Washington, as Flexner points out, created many precedents as the nation’s first president. Some of those precedents paved the way for powerful men to seek sex from powerless women anytime they got an itch. Jefferson impregnated at least one of his slave women. Cleveland conceived a child out of wedlock. Harding explored hidden spaces in the White House to have sex with a young woman. FDR and Ike were unfaithful to their wives and LBJ had several mistresses. John Kennedy’s sexual appetite was breathtaking; he once told British Prime Minister Harold McMillan that if he didn’t have a different woman every three days he got terrible head aches.

Because bedrooms of yore were private places, we will never really know how many other presidents took advantage of powerless women. No doubt most of the men who occupied the White House were upright men who were faithful to their wives and treated women with respect. I’m sure that list includes Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

But the aggressive disrespect Mr. Trump has shown for women is migraine inducing. His current support for an Alabama pedophile makes it obvious that he has no plans to change his attitude toward sex and women. Clearly he is not going to sit down and reassess his life and the harm he has done to his fellow human beings, as Patton Oswalt urges all us guys to do.

That’s too bad. Because as thousands of women are letting it be known that they will no longer tolerate crude and abusive behavior by men, we could use a little male moral leadership to speak on behalf of us guys: sisters, you are right, and we have been deplorable. We vow hereinafter to show you the respect you deserve.

But Mr. Trump will remain  smugly quiet. And to be sure, there is little he can say at this point to erase the words that will be carved in granite on the walls of his presidential library:

“Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

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Did McNamara Forgive Himself?

macradarphilp2It has been fifty years since President Lyndon Johnson figured out a safe way to fire Secretary of Defense Robert Strange McNamara.

According to Fredrik Logevall’s recent article in the New York Times, McNamara woke up on November 29, 1967 to learn LBJ had appointed him to head the World Bank.

In “Re-Thinking McNamara’s War,” Logevall notes that Johnson had concluded McNamara had “gone soft” on the Vietnam War. The President feared the secretary was about to abandon the administration to join the anti-war camp of Robert F. Kennedy.

McNamara’s responsibilities at the World Bank effectively muzzled him, but it’s clear that by early 1967, he had concluded that the Vietnam War had been a terrible mistake.

It blows my mind (to borrow a phrase from the era) that Secretary of Defense McNamara realized it before I did. In May 1967, when McNamara wrote a secret memo urging President Johnson to end the war, I was still fighting the Cold War at Bentwaters and Woodbridge Air Bases in bucolic Suffolk, England. F4C Pilots from the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing were routinely assigned temporary duty in Thailand to drop bombs on Hanoi before resuming their duties in the U.K. I’d see the returning pilots in Sunday worship at the chapel where I worked, silently flexing their jaw muscles while grasping their wives’ hands. I’d ask them how it went, and they’d shrug. “Had to be done,” they’d say, avoiding eye contact.

I don’t think any of us understood why it had to be done. I was a 21-year-old chaplain’s assistant who could have been the model for M*A*S*H’s Radar O’Reilly and I got most of my war news from the Stars & Stripes newspaper. All of us, officers and enlisted alike, worked in duty sections that had black-and-white pictures of LBJ and Robert McNamara staring suspiciously at us, hanging below the metallically glistening Air Force motto: “Peace is Our Profession.”

Oddly enough it all made sense: as a product of our profession of peace we dropped bombs on people in North Vietnam because it had to be done. Even if we were inclined to analyze it, we’d be distracted by inspiring speeches at Commander’s Call by officers like Colonel Robin Olds, the Vietnam War’s first flying “ace”, and the awesome Colonel Daniel N. “Chappie” James, later the Air Force’s first African American four-star general. Neither commander encouraged a good debate among their subordinates, so we’d nod and salute.

Meanwhile, and unbeknownst to us, Robert McNamara had digested a CIA report that the so-called enemy was intractably committed to reuniting the country and there was nothing the U.S. could do to prevent it.

McNamara, who was skilled at pursuing facts to their inevitable conclusion, realized his original judgment about the winnabilty of the Vietnam War had been wrong. His memo to President Johnson is quoted in his obituary in the New York Times:

“The war is becoming increasingly unpopular as it escalates – causing more American casualties, more fear of its growing into a wider war, more privation of the domestic sector, and more distress at the amount of suffering being visited on noncombatants in Vietnam, South and North.”

Americans, McNamara told LBJ, “want the war ended and expect their president to end it. Successfully. Or else.”

When McNamara wrote that memorandum on May 19, 1967, I still had 17 months to go on my Air Force enlistment. The Vietnam War itself would continue for another eight bloody years. Nearly 38,000 Americans died in Vietnam in the years after McNamara concluded the war had been a mistake. I didn’t reach that conclusion until September 1968, my first year in college.

Within weeks after his memo to LBJ, McNamara found himself ushered out of the Pentagon and installed as head of the World Bank. Although it’s clear now that Johnson fired him, at the time it looked like he was promoted for faithful service. McNamara gave no indication that he was having second thoughts about the war.

And that’s what I can’t forgive. When his voice could have thundered around the world, he chose to be silent.

There are thousands of gruesome monuments to the price of his silence. Years later, after McNamara finally revealed his regrets, my wife and I visited the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where her immigrant father once worked as a dish washer after he left Cuba. The cemetery at West Point tends to be organized by the war in which the soldiers fell, and as we passed by the graves of Vietnam veterans I became bitterly mindful of McNamara’s change of heart. A lot of those graves were of men and women who died after 1967 – after their Secretary of Defense had concluded the war was unnecessary and unwinnable.

Why didn’t McNamara speak up? Did he feel honor-bound to be loyal to an intransigent president? What were his thoughts when the casualty figures continued to mount: 16,592 in 1968? 11,616 in 1969? 6,081 in 1970? All died for a cause he knew to be lost from the beginning.

In his later years, Robert McNamara was eloquent in his contrition. In a 1995 memoir he declared the war had been “wrong – terribly wrong.” He spent the rest of his life trying – futilely, it turned out – to prevent similar American disasters.

But the terrible question hanging over McNamara’s life can’t be avoided: what if he had spoken up sooner? Would the timely confession by the architect of the war that he had been wrong all along have forced LBJ to halt it? Would it have given subsequent warriors, Nixon and Kissinger, sufficient pause to sue for peace? Would it have saved thousands of lives?

We’ll never know. Personally, I think a public admission by Robert McNamara in May 1967 would have been loud enough to suck the air out of public opinion and silence the bombs over Hanoi.

When Robert McNamara died July 6, 2009, his aged and sallow face appeared once more on our television screens and it was moving to hear the agony in his voice as he admitted his terrible mistakes. Quite evidently he lived in a hell of contrition since 1967.

Other decision makers have been less contrite about the lessons McNamara learned. Logevall writes: “In Austin, Tex., last year, when asked if he had regrets about the war, Henry Kissinger demurred, admitting only ‘tactical mistakes.’”

At least McNamara was contrite. It’s too bad President George W. Bush didn’t have a chance to consult the former secretary before he plunged the nation into other disastrous and unwinnable wars.

Bush, like Kissinger, has yet to express regret about the decisions that were made. But Robert McNamara’s confession has been starkly convincing. No doubt it saved his soul.

I only wish it had come sooner.

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Sanity and Rationality in the Cuban Missile Crisis

October 22, 2017 – Fifty-five years ago today, President John F. Kennedy announced a quarantine of all ships approaching Cuban harbors.

He used the word “quarantine” advisedly because he was actually ordering a blockade of Cuba, which is an act of war. War would have triggered the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union. It wouldn’t have mattered that the U.S. arsenal was vastly superior to that of the U.S.S.R. There were enough nuclear weapons on both sides to obliterate life on earth.

I was 16 that dark Monday night when my family and I watched Kennedy’s ominous address. I assume most Americans who had a television were tuned in because White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger had announced the President would address the nation “on a matter of the highest national urgency.” That night at 6:30 p.m. Walter Cronkite couldn’t report all the news until the presidential address began. He started to end the CBS broadcast with his usual sign-off: “That’s the way it is.” But he stopped and looked directly into the camera: “Well, we’ll find out the way it is in a few minutes.”

President Kennedy, speaking calmly but firmly, announced the Soviet Union was installing offensive nuclear weapons in Cuba.

“To halt this offensive buildup, a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba is being initiated,” Kennedy said. “All ships of any kind bound for Cuba, from whatever nation or port, will, if found to contain cargoes of offensive weapons, be turned back.”

The line in the presidential address that frightened me the most was this:

“It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”

It occurred to my uncompleted adolescent brain that we might be on the verge of extinction, but I wasn’t sure what that meant. We had read John Hershey’s Hiroshima in class and knew how devastating a single atomic bomb could be. But by 1962 the bombs had multiplied geometrically and were infinitely more powerful.  It was impossible to imagine the effect of all of them exploding simultaneously all over the world. No doubt everyone shared the thoughts of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara: “When I went to bed that night, I wondered if I’d wake up to see morning.”

We did wake up the next morning, but the crisis had deepened. My Dad and siblings and I prepared silently for school, where Dad was a business teacher. We were scared but silent. Dad may have been expecting the worst, but he tended to keep his anxieties locked up inside. Mom, who often talked about what worried her, was also mute.

In school I sat next to my friend Pam. “My mother didn’t get dressed this morning,” she whispered. “She just sits at the kitchen table in her night gown, listening to the radio and holding her head.”

I nodded. I could understand that.

In history class, Mr. Gourley – a World War II veteran like many of our male teachers – stood in front of the room and seemed to be studying our faces.

“I’ve had my life,” he said. “It will be too bad if you don’t get to have yours.”

He may have drifted into his lesson plan after that, but I don’t remember. I’ve remembered his opening sentence, word for word, for 55 years.

Throughout the next several days, most of us stayed close to our radios, which were the most convenient source of news. I remember John Steinbeck was asked how he learned he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. “I was turning on my radio to see if we were about to be blown up,” he said.

Even now, most people don’t know how close we came to being blown up in October 1962. Decades later, declassified documents revealed the Soviet nukes were armed and ready for use before the quarantine was announced, and Soviet colonels had been authorized to launch them at the first sign of a U.S. attack. President Kennedy’s more hawkish advisors, including Vice President Lyndon Johnson, former Secretary of State Dean Acheson and Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay, urged an immediate airstrike of Cuba. Their bellicosity could have ended the world. No one will ever know if Soviet colonels, who, after all, were human with family and children at home, would have responded as ordered.

There are still hawkish historians who criticize John Kennedy for needlessly creating a military crisis that could have been addressed diplomatically and solving it by backing away from a brink of his own creation. But it was his caution and, to a great extent, his courage to resist the strident calls of his advisors to attack, that prevented a nuclear holocaust. And for that we can be thankful.

In 1962, there were many things I didn’t know. I didn’t know that my future wife, Martha, had already emigrated from Cuba with her parents and that her family was watching the crisis unfold from their five-story walk-up at 452 Ninth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen. I didn’t know that many primos y primas I would come to love dearly were still living in Cuba and would have been among the targets of U.S. attacks. I didn’t know how close the future we built together came to never happening.

Happily, the Cuban missile crisis passed in 1962 and the world went on.

Fifty-five years later it’s impossible to reflect on that past without thinking of the nuclear threats that are now being hurled back and forth between the U.S. and North Korea.

In 1962, the two men in position to push the nuclear button – John F. Kennedy and Nikita S. Khrushchev – were sane and rational human beings.

I wish we could be more certain that the current nuclear jousters are sane and rational. Because, as we learned decades ago, sanity and rationality are important ingredients for keeping the planet alive.

And only sanity and rationality will assure we will never have to tell our grandchildren that we’ve had our lives. And it would be too bad if they didn’t get to have theirs.

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The response of thousands of women to Harvey Weinstein’s serial abuse of females should come as no surprise to us guys. Harvey and his evil ilk are everywhere, and if we have not been him we quietly rolled our eyes and turned away when we saw him.

He exists in every strata of society, in our offices, in our factories, on our farms, in our schools, in our homes, and – God knows – in our churches. If you’re on social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, the number of women who said “#MeToo” because they have experienced harassment, sexual abuse, or rape may not have surprised you. But it was staggering to see who the women are: our wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, teachers, colleagues, neighbors, and pastors.

The #MeToo testimonies on social media – one woman posted #All Women as a corollary – were painful to read and guys like me squirmed uncomfortably as we looked for ways to respond. Bishop Robert Rimbo of the Metropolitan New York Evangelical Lutheran Synod posted, “I Believe You.” I have yet to see a guy post “#IDidIt,” and I’d like to believe that most men are not in the Harvey Weinstein category of chronic abusers.

But virtually all men should post #IKnew, because even when we were keeping our hands to ourselves, we knew what some of our brethren were doing.

#IKnew, when I was a student at Eastern Baptist College in 1969, that one of my fellow students, a future missionary, asked a Freshman girl out one night and forced her to have sex. She told her roommate, who told other students. “I was very disappointed in him,” one of my friends, a future clergyman, told me, and we shook our heads sadly. #We Knew. But we maintained the guy code of silence.

#IKnew in 1974, when I was editor of American Baptist News Service, that a high ranking Baptist executive had to be fired because he was a masher and a habitual grabber of women’s breasts. My bosses told me what to write in the press release: “He was so committed to his ministry that he is utterly exhausted and he needs to take a long rest.” #IKnew the truth, but I wrote the lie. Within months, the executives recommended the masher as pastor of a Baptist church. And within weeks he was assaulting women again, and the church fired him. Years later, a member of the church told me, “We never got over that. And we certainly never trusted the denominational offices again.”

In the 1980s, one of my male bosses died after a long, painful struggle with bone cancer. He had been a good teacher of writing about denominational politics, and I was sad to see him go. I called the woman who had been his secretary to give her the unhappy news.

“Oh!” she said. “I hated him! I know you liked him, but he chased me around my desk and couldn’t keep his paws off me. I hated him.”

I was dumbfounded. I thought of him as a sweet and nurturing old intellectual, but he had a shadow side I didn’t detect. And among the things I didn’t detect was that he created a painfully unsafe environment for one of my office friends.

#IKnew, also, that another high-ranking Baptist executive was known for inviting female colleagues into his office, where he would proposition them. One of the man’s staff subordinates confronted him and told him the behavior must stop. But it didn’t stop, and the man was allowed to ease into a comfortable retirement, where he remained active in Baptist activities.

Throughout the years, #IKnew men who were flirtatious with women but didn’t cross what they (and I) considered to be “the line.” No doubt many of the women considered the line crossed, because flirtatious and suggestive banter can be very uncomfortable.

One of the complicating factors in the Harvey Weinstein syndrome is that God created animal magnetism and bestowed it on all of us. Sexual attraction is not only necessary for human reproduction but its pleasure is also a gift of God. Sexual desire is the initial glue of committed relationships and it can also bring couples closer to God. Just as Olympic runner Eric Liddell said he could feel God’s pleasure when he ran, so, too, can God’s intense joy be experienced in the orgasms lovers share.

Even when we lust only in our hearts, as when our eyes discretely follow an attractively lithesome form on television or on the street, we feel pleasure. I can enjoy my spouse’s enthusiastic appreciation of Idris Elba and she will make sure I’m not dozing when Beyoncé appears on late night television. There is no rule preventing any of us from covertly admiring the earthly delights of another human being.

But there are limits to that, and when the line is crossed, it’s usually by us guys. In her #MeToo testimony on Facebook, one clergywoman told of entering a room filled with male clergy. She might have expected to be greeted collegially by her professional co-workers, and no doubt most of the men regarded her with respect. But one looked at her and exclaimed, “Delicious.”

That was a line crossed. The man may have thought he was offering a compliment, but he created an uncomfortable situation that automatically objectivized the woman in the presence of her peers.

I suspect much of the harassment experienced by women is from wolf-whistling men who think they have the right to shout crude compliments at them, in private or in public. I don’t know what can be done to stop men from saying dumb sexist shit, especially if their parents never got around to teaching them to keep their mouths shut and their hands to themselves.

But one of the jarring lessons of the #MeToo movement is that it shows us – as if we guys didn’t already know – how prevalent are the Harvey Weinsteins in our culture.

And one of the reasons they are free to prowl is that other men – those who, due to introversion, or age, or strong mothers, only lust in our hearts – know about it but remain silent.

Clearly the time for silent acquiescence is over, guys. If we see harassment or abuse, we should say something. We should have the balls to look the dude in the eye and say, #IKnow. And it has to stop.

#IKnew. #WeKnew

And we have been silent too long.

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