Monday, March 6, 2017

College Boys and Soldiers

My 40th college reunion is coming up. Yes, it's a jolt to the system to realize that I've gone from a skinny young nerd to a skinny vintage nerd in what seems roughly the amount of time it takes to play an Orioles-Yankees game. I'm making the calls and sending the emails to my far-flung (but "curated") group of friends, trying to decide whether Baltimore in Springtime is all that appealing...or should we just wait for 50?

It can get a little hot in April in Charm City. In fact, it can stay a little hot well into September. Along with hot, Baltimore has a well-deserved reputation for humid. It excels at humid. This, along with Chemistry, and, of all things, German, caused me briefly to wonder just what the heck I was doing when my guidance counselor suggested Johns Hopkins and I thought "Hopkins, wow, great idea, Cushing, Halsted, Osler, I'm going to be a doctor!"

Reality can be a cruel mistress. Yet there was something besides an absurd Heat-Index reading that was different about my first few days in college—there was also the sound of ROTC candidates training in the practice field behind my dorm. A reminder of Vietnam and a fate—perhaps my fate—rather narrowly escaped.

If you didn't live through it, it might be hard to grasp the turmoil, anger, and anxiety of the late 60s and early 70s. Turmoil, because no one knew when or how the war was going to end; anger, at politicians who seemed unable to find satisfactory answers; and anxiety—deep fear—that you, or a family member would somehow find himself in a place that few wanted to be for a cause in which many did not believe.

Richard Nixon had called for an all-volunteer army during the 1968 Campaign. Whether he actually believed in the concept or was merely using it as a tactic is hard to say. But he was also looking for a way to defuse the constant anti-war demonstrations. These, he thought, were led by middle and upper-middle class families who were concerned that once their boys completed their college deferments, they would be shipped off to die. Take away their risk, and they would no longer care, allowing him to pursue his strategic aims unencumbered by organized opposition.