Back in the mid-1960s, I was a kid headed off for college at Kansas State University. College is supposed to widen the horizons, and it began to broaden mine even when I retreated.
I was longing for my farm life while having my perspectives thrashed by what was around me. I was still in my box, but had the lid pried open just enough to look around. What I saw was a country struggling with its self-identity.
Students continually had “bull-session” discussions about the Vietnam War and racial issues. Vietnam was always part of male conciousness. Most young men who didn’t remain in college had two choices: be drafted by, or volunteer for, the military.
As did many students, I went through ROTC because I thought with the inevitability of military service it would be better to be an officer than an enlisted man—not correct thinking, but that’s another story.
As the anti-war demonstrations and draft-card burnings progressed during my college years, I remained what I considered pro-American but wondering why the government wouldn’t turn the military loose to win the war instead of sending young men to die piecemeal.
The effort to define what was “a good American” and what was traitorous was accelerating. Being a member of groups on the un-American activities list could automatically lead to your being defined as a “security risk,” subject to law enforcement surveillance.
I was from rural, white Kansas, and made my first two black friends at K-State. Darnell and Roy were as different from each other as any two white guys would ever be.
Roy was focused on his education and doing well in life. He grew up with a self-employed successful-in-business family in Kansas City. We did things together like going to a movie and playing dirt-lot basketball.
Darnell and I mostly spent the time in bull sessions discussing hot issues, racial politics, often taking radical positions that for me sometimes went beyond how I really felt.
I remember pushing his buttons by saying, given a choice, I would sit by a white girl in a class rather than a black girl because the white girl might have potential for dating, or maybe even marriage, while a black girl never would.
Darnell must have passed the word among his friends because at a K-State Student Union dance, a beautiful black girl named Paula asked me to dance while Darnell glared at me from a corner. I was surprised when she hugged me to dance very close, but the girl did prove her point.
It was about this time that Darnell got kicked out of Air Force ROTC because he was an admitted member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. SNCC was defined as un-American and a security risk.
There was no pretense at the modern conception of political correctness in such a case.
A prominent un-American came to campus to speak as part of the K-State effort to make its lectures reflect all of society. He was George Lincoln Rockwell, the president of the American Nazi Party.
He was a lesson in the fact that evil can be overwhelmingly charismatic. He was unfearful of anything, very fierce in his speech, somewhat like hearing Adolph Hitler himself, I guessed. The thousands of students listened spell-bound to his predominantly anti-Jewish rhetoric while also seeming obligated to jeer at him.
The black students carried signs protesting his visit on the outskirts of the crowd, and at times tried to shout him down. Rockwell ferociously shook a hand at them and said their actions showed they were apes barely removed from the jungle.
It was a spectacular performance that left me thinking about freedom of speech, and what society should tolerate for its own well-being.
Rockwell’s dead now, assasinated probably as the result of his own hate-filled rhetoric.
Roy was a very successful person, and he generously donates money to K-State. Darnell, according to an Internet search—if indeed it is the same Darnell—went on to become an attorney and sociologist dealing with racial relations in Chicago.
I have little doubt that this is my Darnell. Darnell and Roy, both “good Americans.”
Looking back on those times, and considering the political correctness in vogue as we continue to search for American identity, causes me to daydream about how things ought to be.
With the Soviet Union gone, communist organizations and the un-American lists of the FBI seem to have faded, too. The Nazis hardly appear real at most times, although fears of the ultra-right surfaced with the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.
Our main enemies now are defined as Islamic radicals, and they seem to again be giving us pause in identifying ourselves.
Politicians puzzle over what to do with the worst of them that have been conveniently kept far away in Guantanamo.
The Americans of the 1940s seemed to have few qualms at hanging Tojo or hanging the Nazis found guilty at Nurenberg. But our newfound political correctness hesitates with the Islamic prisoners.
Back when Darnell faced judgment, nobody would have considered allowing foreign-born Nazis and communists to immigrate into the United States, even those who promised to stay peaceful while continuing worship within their “atheistic religions.”
Now our society spends a disproportionate amount of its time telling Americans that Muslims are a peaceful people with a peaceful religion, that the vast majority of them do not subscribe to the murderous activities of the radicals.
It is popularly pointed out that many people have been killed in the name of Christianity, too. But that ignores that the founder of Christianity, Jesus the Christ, taught peace and mental wellness, while the founder of Islam, Muhammad, taught the killing of the infidel, and demonstrated this upon gaining power by slaughtering non-believing inhabitants of Mecca and Medina.
Should the “peaceful” followers of Muhammad be allowed to immigrate here in the millions, as they are doing, any more than the “peaceful” followers of Vladmir Lenin or Adolph Hitler?
Darnell was peaceful SNCC. Should that credit Muslims somehow in my mind?
Maybe we need to choose which way we are before circumstances make our choices for us. I have learned the values of what is good in liberalism, but I have no fear of the politically incorrect.
It is right and good to decide what kind of society we will become without malice or persecution of anyone. This is true when it comes to deciding who should immigrate here. We should be free to tell Muslims not to come here without hating them.