Newsweek, Time and the other news magazines are right.
The business about Dan Quayle and the military got my generation thinking about Viet Nam again.And when it comes to Nam, every guy my age has a story to tell - those that went, and those that didn't.
For me, Viet Nam was always a rumbling in the distance, something going on outside of my world. I must have been like an early Christian hearing the distant rumors about the Crusades. I didn't pay much attention.
One thing did filter through to me, however. I knew it wasn't completely dishonorable to stay home.
Growing up in Brigham City I was isolated from the ruckus of the war. Chicago and Berkeley were a billion miles away. But more than isolated, I was insulated. Small towns are often "in the world but not of it." I was protected by the hills of home.
And, I was an innocent kid.
I've heard it said that Mormon boys tend to be boys a little longer than most. That was true in my case. I tell people today I was a "late bloomer." What I was, was naive. Back then, when I thought of the war at all, I saw it as theater, as a backdrop for my own little drama. The peace sign was a clever decoration I'd sketch when I got bored in class. I romanticized student protesters the way others romanticized football players.
Young men can be self-absorbed. I was younger than most.
Even at BYU.
BYU was not a hotbed of protest in the late '60s. While Ohio State students were taking over the administration building, the students at the "Y" were wondering if they should recall their studentbody president and writing letters to the Daily Universe about hygiene.
I don't say that with a sneer. It's how things were. The mountains of Zion were conceived as a refuge. They worked for me.
I fit right in at the "Y."
After my pre-induction physical, I was granted a 2-S student deferment. When I became a missionary I received a 4-Y. I was instructed to destroy my 2-S card.
So - using the war as backdrop, as I said - I enacted a one-act play on the steps of Taylor Hall. I burned the useless draft card for the world to see, not letting on I had the valid one in my pocket.
I wanted to do a collage, using my partially burned draft card as the central motif.
I'm not saying the war was a joke. I had no moral opinion of it. I didn't feel it was that important.
The hassle with Quayle brought all that back.
I had high school classmates who died in Viet Nam: Jerry Smith, Johnny Buist. My cousin John Watterson lost his legs. Dave Herbert was cut up. I'm chagrined I was flip and glib while they fought on; not in a mea culpa way - I don't feel a need to lay the ghosts. If I owe an apology, it's an apology for being stupid. And once I start apologizing for stupidity, I could rattle on for years like a holy penitent.
"Sin can be forgiven," Pat Robertson said of Gary Hart, "but stupidity lives forever."
Unlike Quayle, I didn't join the Guard to keep away from active service. I didn't hustle off to Canada. I didn't fire the shot heard round the world. I didn't take an unheard shot in the chest like Jerry Smith.
What I did was not think about it. "Pick it and it won't heal," "ignore it and it goes away." Somehow such ideas got programmed into me along the way. Those, and one other one: "Ignorance is bliss." What people don't realize, however, is that when the wise man made that statement, he had an odd, wistful almost melancholy expression on his face.
A little like mine today.