For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
June 14, 2001 - Rotary Speaker Thought Provoking
I belong to one of Castle Rock's two Rotary Clubs (the High Noon Club, which meets at Plum Perfect Catering every Thursday at noon). Last week, we had the remarkable experience of hearing the President of the Nam-POWs speak. (More information about this group can be found at www.nampows.org.)
Mike McGrath, who is the current President of Nam-POWS, spent 6 years as a prisoner in what is now known as the Hanoi Hilton. A Navy pilot captain, he was shot down over North Vietnam. He was tortured, held for months in solitary confinement. For much of that time, his family did not know if he were alive or dead.
Like all of the captives who lived, he was broken -- where "broken" means "revealed more than name, rank and serial number." For more information on his story, and those like his, see "The American Experience: Return with Honor," a PBS video, available from our library.
This is the second POW story I'd heard. The first was from another Rotary speaker a couple of years ago. He lives up in Littleton. He claimed to have been a Hanoi Hilton captive too. But, as it turned out, he lied. He was one of the many people whose stories are highlighted in "Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History," by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley. We've got that one, too.
After McGrath's presentation, one of our members asked: "Why would somebody lie about such a thing?" Here's my answer: it's a powerful story. People who hear it are hushed, supportive, deeply sympathetic. We can't really imagine such an ordeal. We can't help but wonder how we would fare under such conditions. We poured out our fellow-feeling to this poor man.
Who fabricated the whole thing.
I was not a Vietnam veteran. I turned 18 with a draft lottery number of 35. That meant, under the complicated system of the day, that I would almost certainly have been called up.
In those days, the debate on the topic was often harsh. I belonged to no camp: neither "my country right or wrong," nor "hell no, we won't go." I thought then, and still think, that if my country were wrong, it needed thoughtful and principled resistance by its citizens. But if the cause were just, if the leaders could be trusted, then I was indeed prepared to put my life on the line. My problem then was that I simply didn't have enough information to decide. I've since learned that at that time, reliable information wasn't to be had.
As it happened, that was the precise year that the draft was abolished. I never had to make that very difficult choice. So I went to college.
Well, it's a generation later. The library has 700 titles on the Vietnam "conflict." McNamara, the Secretary of Defense who helped launch and defend the war, has since admitted that the whole strategy was flawed. Here's how many American soldiers died in Vietnam: 47,393 in battle, and 10,800 through "other" causes. That doesn't include the wounded, the captured, the tortured, or the damaged, all of whom number many more thousands.
So I'm like many other conflicted Americans. I'm impressed by the resilience, the character strength of people like McGrath. (He, by the way, has no doubt that the cause was both clear and correct: to halt the spread of communism.) He's the sort of man I am proud to honor for his demonstrated willingness to put his very life between an enemy and my family.
But -- and I recognize that this may be a deeply unpopular sentiment amidst the current spate of "Great Generation" stories and the Pearl Harbor remembrances -- patriotism, a willingness to die for any cause, providing only that the nation demands it, CAN BE madness. That's true in North Vietnam, in Japan, in Germany, and in our own homeland.
The problem: how to know when your country is worthy of great sacrifice?