There is something chilling in reading this article top to bottom, perhaps more so because 1972 is the beginning of my political awakening.
My parents were naturally Democrats, and I grew up in the very Democrat, blue-collar neighborhood of Southwest St. Louis where Scullin Steel once cast a sulfur cloud shadow over the old frame houses built in the declining days of the Jazz Age.
In 1972, though, my dad, who fought in World War II and Korea, did a stint as a St. Louis City cop, and was now a machinist, had taken his fill of civil rights, anti-war, and the kind of anti-Americanism John Kerry and that ilk represented. For the first time in his life, as far as I know, Jack Hennessy voted Republican.
And he voted for more than one. While McGovern had no chance of getting Dad’s vote, other Democrats–Stewart Symington, and others–might have. But Dad felt, I believe, that liberals had cost him control over his own daughters who had dropped out of high school. Every night for the past fours had been fights, and bad ones. Usually between my parents and older sisters, but sometimes the battle lines shifted mysteriously. My dad and sisters against my mom. Mom and my sisters against my dad. Dad and one sister against Mom and another. My dad never talked about politics much, as he believed it improper conversation material. But he took political action.
On election night, 1972, one of my cousins came in wearing a McGovern button. My dad made her leave.
It was the most uncharacteristic act I’ve ever witnessed. It just wasn’t like my dad to kick someone out of his house, particularly a family member. But he would not have a McGovern button in his home. Perhaps the fights with my sisters in the previous months had been over such election flair; I don’t remember. But my dad telling Sally to “take it off or leave” sticks with me to this day.
The young John Kerry of 1972 ran into a lot of men like my dad: hard working, quietly religious veterans. They were Democrat because they believed Roosevelt saved America from Big Business. While many belonged to unions, they held a healthy suspicion of anything big–business, union, government. To those who’d seen 3, 4, 5 years of war in the 40s only to get called back to active duty for Korea, hearing Vietnam vets denounce America was intolerable. They didn’t enjoy speaking ill of a fellow veteran–except over a beer at the VFW hall after the monthly meeting. But they didn’t care for the softness they saw in guys like Kerry. These punks were whiners who didn’t deserve the honor of being called a veteran. “No different than any other war,“ the WWII guys would say under their breath.
“You leave that stuff where you found it,” I heard one of my dad’s friends say.
He was right, I’ve learned. There was a time when I thought it noble to expose heinous acts committed by Americans even under the stress of battle. I still think that’s right; I also think it’s wrong.
War is an ugly business. Though Sherman believed that we shoul