To be accepted, I had to make two trips to campus while home on annual leave: one to take the college board exams; the other for a personal interview with an admissions officer whose job was to determine if I had the discipline to be a freshman student, on my own unsupervised, a day’s travel from home. I have no idea how he made his assessment except that he flat out asked me if I was disciplined enough. Doing my best to hide even a hint of sarcasm, I told him that I had been sent to Saigon, on my own, unsupervised, to establish a branch of the Army Signal School and aside from that had taught for several years at Ft. Monmouth. That and my CEEB scores, which were somewhere in the 90th percentiles were enough for him to sign the admissions form.
“Didn’t your military experience count? You had responsible jobs and acted independently.”
“I’m not sure that a hitch in the army didn’t actually work against me. The anti-war movement had reached a high plateau by the time I mustered out. Plus, there hadn’t been room for much besides high school extra-circular activities on the admissions form.”
“But didn’t you have to write some sort of essay about why you wanted to be a student there and how great you thought the school was and what you were going to do with your education?”
“I don’t remember doing that. I think they admitted me mostly on the strength of my test scores. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t write an essay, if I didn’t. My anti-American attitude would have shown through and this was definitely not an Anti-American school.”
“I don’t share your anti-American attitude either. It was the Americans who saved my family and thousands like us from destruction. Sure, the American government made mistakes but most of them were out of naiveté or hubris. They weren’t evil, mostly. The Saigon government and their corruption, that was evil. They preyed on anyone weaker than themselves to support themselves as gods. It was like your laundry-products pyramid scheme on a national scale with each tier in the hierarchy skimming a big part of the take. The little people didn’t stand a chance. The Americans at least try to be fair. That’s baked into the culture in the same way corruption is baked into Asian culture.”
“Agnes, there are still a lot of people who will argue that point. That point about fairness. I’ve run into many of them. But I agree that we as a society aren’t inherently corrupt. But at the time, nearly twenty years ago, I couldn’t discriminate between a malevolent, militaristic administration and American culture. There were also so many assaults on what I knew as American culture and such a strong and growing counter-culture. At the time I thought there were just the two. Then I began to realize that there are many American cultures stitched together by a common storyline we see on TV and the stitching that held those cultures had begun to come apart even before the war. The black culture, for example. By the mid-sixties they were totally fed up.”
“What about the Asian cultures, like in San Francisco’s Chinese? And in Southern California the hispanic culture. It predates white Americans by several hundred years. They weren’t part of the culture you saw.”
“I didn’t understand all that then. So the culture shock of moving from the Army culture and East Coast culture to Pullman, Washington was profound. Pullman is a college town on the edge of the Palouse wheat fields of Eastern Washington. It was where wheat farmers and ranchers sent their daughters to keep them out of harm’s way. So it was relatively benign in terms of anti-war sentiment. There was no discernible movement there.