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January 6, 2013

Omphaloskepsis, Abortion, and Marijuana

By Bob Patterson

Is it too late to offer a new argument on moral grounds for objecting to participation in the Vietnam War?


Mention the topic of birth control to a group of Catholics and folks leap (knee jerk reaction) to the assumption that the conversation will soon be about abortion, but not this time.   While attending a Jesuit University in the early Sixties approving the use of birth control pills was an indication that the student was showing a nasty propensity toward unorthodox thinking and anticipated the need for the expression "get your mind right, Luke."   A comedian (wasn't George Carlin always the source for all truly funny original thoughts?) back then made the assertion that "Catholics make the best fascists" and thus were used to accepting theological precepts while in the "unquestioning" mode of learning, but for one student who didn't want to create waves and rock the boat, there were some very disturbing tangential aspects to the birth control debate which led the rogue thinker to question the morality of warfare, which was a very, very convoluted line or reasoning and best left unexpressed in a regimented atmosphere that equated heresy with treason.  

At a time when American involvement in the internal affairs of South Vietnam was limited to sending a few advisors to help the South Vietnamese military handle dissent as they saw fit, questioning the morality of warfare was incidental in a segment of society that concentrated on stressing the rationality of using sperm and ovum to play a variation on the game of "Russian Roulette."  

Since college, even at a Jesuit University, is meant to be a time for sharpening one's intellectual acuity, one particular student in the early Sixties was asking himself obscure questions meant to challenge his ability to analyze and assess regimented thinking.   Such as?   If one of the Ten Commandments advises folks to not do any killing, how then could the Pope reconcile German Catholics and American Catholics trading bullets, artillery shells, bayonet wounds, and aerial bombardments with each other during WWII?  

Shouldn't the Pope, whom we had been convinced spoke with absolute infallibility, have stepped in and, like a football referee, adjudicated the dispute and saved lives?   

How could the Pope reconcile extensive killing from one side of his mouth while simultaneously assuring married couples that the sanctity of life required them to play a high stakes game of chance out the other side of his mouth?  

Either life is sacred or not, but to maintain that young couples had to gamble with their future because the lives of their potential progeny were sacred and that once their children reached the age of 18 they were just cannon fodder to be used as counters in a world wide game of Imperial chess isn't logical.

[We keep hearing PSA sound bytes on the progressive radio station in San Francisco reminding listeners to register with the draft board right after they celebrate their 18th birthday.   Are liberals still dispensing advice on how to dodge the draft in Berkeley CA?  You must register.   It's the law.   Fact check this on line.]

Resources for fact checking abounded at a Jesuit University, because teachers of philosophy, logic, and theology were plentiful, but the answer to our question remained tantalizingly elusive.   Ultimately we were able to pin down the official stance on war and killing as taught by the Pope and holy mother the church:   "A Catholic citizen of any country may, in good conscience, participate in any war fought by his country as long as there is reasonable expectation of victory."

That explained it.   The American Catholics thought that Patton was going to take them all the way to Berlin, and the German Catholics thought that Hitler would quarterback a magnificent goal line stand by his team.   No problem.

However, there was one teeny, tiny problem with that vague and nebulous doctrine that was just about totally irrelevant until after graduation.   Early on in the American intervention in the affairs of South Vietnam, Americans were reassured that the United States wasn't going to get bogged down in a long, arduous, and costly (in terms of lives lost) campaign for total victory.   The U. S. would fight until things were back under control and then (like the Cheshire cat?) withdraw from the area formerly known as French Indochina.  

If the US wasn't going for victory how long would it be until the priests in the USA unanimously opposed the War in Vietnam on moral grounds?

When the students at UC Berkeley chanted "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?," were they referring to unborn fetuses?  

Since we were assessed as having a draft status of 1-Y and since our nomadic existence precluded a chance to take vows and enter into the holy institution of marriage, our obsession with reconciling the birth control question with the problem presented by optional military adventures in foreign lands, was put on hold for a good long while.   LBJ explained the lack of involvement with use of the expression:   "He doesn't have a dog in that fight!"

Later in life we became our own source for theological opinion by becoming an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church.   (We are still trying to fact check the assertion that all members of the Sixties band, The Rolling Stones, availed themselves of the same opportunity.)

Now that the fiscal cliff has been postponed and the only item of national concern is the perennial debate about guns, we have a chance to sit back, reflect on the past, and polish our omphaloskepsis (a word which baffles Word Spellcheck) skills and revisit some intellectual conundrums from the past.

Did the mavens of pop culture ever conclusively answer the question:   "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"?

How the heck did the Japanese Army become the Army of occupation so fast in Vietnam?   It sure did provide a convenient launching pad for actions against certain British colonies later in WWII but efforts to consult the history books produce only a gaping gap when a fact checker attempts to find out how the Japanese Army took over so fast in Vietnam.  

If austerity budgets become necessary isn't it logical to conclude that suspending school lunch programs and funding armed guards in every school in the nation, is just a "no brainer"?

What would Ayn Rand advise about cutting Sandy Relief from the budget?

If Secretary of State Cordell Hull was quoted by UPI in a story that ran the last weekend in November of 1941 as saying that Pearl Harbor would be attacked and that war with Japan was inevitable, what would he say about the possible odds for a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear program?  

Recently we saw a news story that hinted that some poor blighters are still serving a life term in Texas prisons for smoking one joint (i.e. a marijuana cigarette) back in the Sixties.

[Photo editor's note:   A photo taken in December of 1966 showed a lone war protester on Times Square in New York City in blizzard conditions holding a sign saying:   ""I'd rather see America lose face than it immortal soul.' Norman Thomas" was assessed as being a great shot that generated too much anti-war sympathy and thus turned down for use on the AP wire.   Since then it has disappeared without a trace from the World's Laziest Journalist's photo archives and we must rely on words without an accompanying graphic to lure some readers to this column.]

Is it too late for an old hippie to get national attention (Does CBS Evening News read the World's Laziest Journalist?) by burning a fifty year old draft card?

President Lyndon Baines Johnson said:   "If we've lost Cronkite, we've lost the country."   [Back in the Sixties unconditional love in the mainstream media for (Republican) Presidents was unavailable because Fox News had not yet been born.]

Now the disk jockey will play "Alice's Restaurant Massacre," "The Ballad of the Green Beret" and "Eve of Destruction."   We have to go write a tepid review of the new movie "Not Fade Away."   Have a "time is on my side" type week.   

Authors Website:

Authors Bio:

BP graduated from college in the mid sixties (at the bottom of the class?) He told his draft board that Vietnam could be won without his participation. He is still appologizing for that mistake. He received his fist photo lesson from a future Pulitzer Prize winner. (Eddie Adams in the AP lunch room told him to get rid of the everready case for his new Nikon F). A Pulitzer Prize winning reporter broke BP in on the police beat for a small daily in Pa. By 1975, Paul Newman had asked for Bob's Autograph.
(Google this: "Paul Newman asked my autograph" and click the top suggested URL.)
His co-workers on the weekly newspaper in Santa Monica,(in the Seventies) included a future White House correspondent for Time magazine and one of the future editors high up on the Playboy masthead. Bob has been to the Oscar ceremony twice before Oscar turned 50.
He is working on a book of memoirs tentatively titled "Paul Newman Asked for my Autograph." In the gold mining area of Australia (Kalgoorlie), Bob was called: "Col. Sanders."