Watching the images from Cairo on various news channels, I recallwatching another tumultuous city. It was the summer of 1968; the DemocraticParty was holding their convention in Chicago.Many concerned citizens used this opportunity to demonstrate against the war inVietnam.
Although not comparable in scale—the country was notdescending into chaos—I find some similarities. Citizens are allowed todisagree with the government: after all, the Constitution says “of the people,by the people, for the people”, but politicians often forget this. They thinkthat, once elected, they are smarter than “the people”. Judging from what Isee, hear, and read, I feel that Mr. Mubarak has come to believe the same. (Iam generous enough to not accuse him of greed and wanting to fleece the economyto benefit himself, relatives, and friends). History has proven that the VietnamWar was a colossal mistake, consciously made by leader of the country. In bothcases, the government fought back with vengeance, when citizens recognized factsand rebelled. Demonstrations and cruel repression followed. In Egypt and Washington,at the time, leaders acted out of arrogance, ignorance, obstinacy, and paranoia.These were not unintelligent men. They were merely misguided by false beliefs. Theypeople were smarter.
Witnessing demonstrations on television in the summer of1968 changed the course of my life. I would not live where I live, would nothave the family I have, and would not have enjoyed the career I did, if I hadnot seen those images of battles on the streets on an American city. I did notdo anything rash; but those images caused me to make different decisions at certainpoints in my life, and they led me to where I am now.
It was summer vacation from college, and my parents weremoving house. I was alone in the new house, waiting for the moving van toarrive the next day. It was my first trip to the new town. I had a mattress anda small black & white television. Beyond that, the house was eerily empty. Televisionprogramming that evening consisted of images of events in Chicago. They made an impression on me. I canstill recall feeling uncomfortable...not afraid, because I was far away fromthe violence in a New England village. I wasnot opposed to the war; I was a member of ROTC at college and expected to jointhe army upon graduation. My brother was an officer, on the way to war. Still,the image of National Guard troops battling with citizens of their own countrymade an impression.
I remembered these scenes when I was a young officer engagedin training for riot control. At least half of my unit was black; all were Vietnamveterans (except me). I wondered if those troops would take orders from me, ifconfronted by an angry crowd of black rioters, like the ones in Watts. Would they turn on me...a symbol of their hatred? Iheld no prejudices and treated my soldiers equally, but that would not preventme from becoming a target. I had still not come to question the war and wouldsoon be sent to try my luck. Images of confronting fellow citizens played arole in my becoming a pilot.
Near completion of my tour in Vietnam,I made a request to be stationed outside the United States to complete my activeduty commitment. I did not want to be assigned to a unit in the United Statesthat could be used for riot control. Without such a conscious decision andtargeted effort, I would not have landed in Germany. The rest, as they say, ishistory.
It is a foregone conclusion that countless lives will beaffected by events in Cairo:some in minor ways, and some in unbelievable ways. Different choice will bemade by those that have the ability to choose. It appears, as of this moment,that many will die because of Mubarak’s arrogance and obstinacy...just likemany died in Vietnam becauseof similar traits in the leaders of America.
If you don’t believe me,read the history books.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.