It’s raining here, and I hate that. But I was in Rancho Mirage yesterday, and that was fabulous. The sky was a perfect light blue. The temperature was about 80, and a pleasant breeze blew across my swimming pool and moved the fronds of our giant palm trees. There was not one soul on the golf course, but the course was a lush green, and there was snow on the mountains behind it.
I do not deserve to have a house as beautiful as this. Of course I won’t have it forever. I’m old.
I was driven down by a friend who says he’s totally broke from the slowdown. He was so nervous about it that he was literally shaking as he was driving. But we talked about it, and he calmed down considerably. He’s a genius, and he’ll figure out something.
When I got home, my wifey and our nurses had some filet of sole that I sautéed in olive oil. It was great. I think by some stroke of luck, I am a chef of fish as long as it can be sautéed. Extra virgin olive oil. Must be fresh and preferably Spanish or Italian.
Then we watched about three hours of Ken Burns’ incredibly well-made documentary about the Vietnam War. It was painfully sad. The suffering of all the people involved was lengthy and pointless. We had super motives in going into it. The communists were killers, and we were trying to keep the South a fairly free country. But the communists were tough as nails and extremely determined. And it’s a big country, and the people there were smart, and many of them hated America.
So almost 60,000 Americans died and about a million Vietnamese. And the results? Suppressed rage against Nixon that got him kicked out of office, an office he was great at doing. A genocidal regime in neighboring Cambodia. Unimaginable cruelty. Vietnam a communist country where bribes have to be paid for anything important or even trivial.
But you have to give the Vietnamese communists credit: they got rid of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot, and that was one of the best things any country has ever done.
We have a Vietnamese woman as my wife’s manicurist and masseuse. She often asks me why the U.S. waged a war in Vietnam. “It was a well-intentioned mistake,” I always tell her. “A terrible mistake.”
She’s a U.S. citizen, but she sometimes goes back to Vietnam and says it’s totally corrupt and people are very poor and only the party bosses live decently.
“What were the Vietnamese fighting so hard for then?” I ask her.
“Honestly, Ben,” she answers, “I have no idea.”
“Heart rendering,” as my wife would say.
The documentary shows the way we students lived then, too. Demonstrations. Sex. Rock and roll. We lived like kings while our fellows were getting killed right and left, maimed, living in filth. It was a horrible combination for the fighting men and women, but wow, did we students have fun. (I was lucky. I had joined NROTC in 1962 and been kicked out for having asthma, which kept me out of the draft for Vietnam.)
I feel very guilty about it. BUT, and this is a big BUT, my father-in-law, a Silver Star, Bronze Star, Distinguished Service medal winning career Army officer who fought in World War II and Vietnam, told me in 1966, “If I were young and in school, I would do everything I could to end the war. It’s a pointless meat grinder. Please demonstrate all you can.”
So, what am I to think?
Anyway, today I had a long talk with my dear friend and fraternity brother at Columbia, Larry Lissitzyn, an extremely accomplished lawyer and a combat Marine in Vietnam. He is so self-effacing about his time in Vietnam it brings tears to my eyes. Also my classmate at Yale Law School, John Keker, was a combat Marine in Vietnam, who suffered serious injuries, and he never brags about it ever. He is one of the most capable lawyers in America and a name to be conjured with in law. He’s a dear friend and a super-smart graduate of Princeton. He grew up near me in Montgomery County, Maryland, and his mother was a power in county politics. John is a genuinely amazing man, as is Larry. Marines are amazing people.
Today there is a lot of good news about the fight against coronavirus, but I think I’ll stay home today anyway. The stock market went up like Sputnik today, and that helps my mood, too. Money is an amazing mood-changer.
But what must it be like to be Larry Lissitzyn or John Keker and know that you are smart and brave and modest and can fight in combat situations and then come home and make a brilliant career in law?
It must be glorious, just as it must have been to be my father-in-law, Col. Dale Denman Jr. None of them ever boasted. Never.
Thank you, dear Lord, for sending us men like them.
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