Author: Joseph Mark Glazner
Publisher: Toronto Glazner Books
This memoir delves into what was the main generational conundrum during what could have been the most idyllic period of the early baby boomer generation’s late teens and early twenties; that being whether to align with what the old white men running America were telling us concerning the “conflict” in South Vietnam, or to trust what our instincts were telling us concerning being sold a bill of goods that we were expected to blindly buy into. The baby boomers are classified as those born between 1946 and 1964 who were created when the men returned from the European and Pacific theaters and the country entered an unprecedented period of economic prosperity. With more disposable income couples had more license to birth more children and birth them they did by pumping our 76.4 million kids before tapering off in the mid-sixties, which incidentally, would prove to be America’s most tumultuous and transformative decade with the exception of what is going on today.
France abandoned the nation of Vietnam in 1954 after their final defeat at Diem Bien Phu causing the country to splinter into North and South segments much like the Korean peninsula had done in 1945 after the departure of the Japanese. In similar fashion, these two nations were to skirmish until an official war for reunification was declared in 1959 when Ho Chi Minh in the North called for a Peoples War in an attempt to unite all of Vietnam under his leadership. To thwart the spread of the communist ideology, primarily as promoted by neighboring China, into this lurch half-heartedly stepped the United States of America aiding the South with “military advisors” who were allowed to carry weapons beginning in 1954. From communist Ho’s perspective, 1959 is when North Vietnam became vehemently opposed to what he viewed as the unwanted interference of the democratic United States of America. However, he somehow managed to keep this a secret for over half a decade and continued to receive U.S. assistance up until 1964 when increasing attacks on U.S. Naval Vessels revealed the North’s true animosity towards the U.S. On August 7th, 1964 Congress passed the Gulf of Ton-Kin Resolution allowing the President to take all necessary steps, including using armed force, to prevent further attacks against U.S Naval vessels and personnel. Most consider this the start of the armed “conflict” in Vietnam, although 3,500 marines constituting “official troops” didn’t arrive at China Beach in Da Nang to join 23,000 military advisors until March 8th, 1965. It’s important to note that the United States government never officially issued a declaration of war against North Vietnam. In essence, Vietnam was the war that wasn’t to a government wearing blinders and unable to explain how then did it claim 58,220 American lives?
Not wanting to lose his life in a confusing and ultimately pointless “conflict” that our leaders didn’t even consider an official war is the main thrust of Glazner’s well-written memoir. The dates 1963 to 1967 encompass his college years at the University of Southern California which he attended on an academic scholarship requiring that he maintain a minimum 3.0 grade point average because failure to do so would result in him losing his college deferment and being subjected to the peacetime military draft. These years are also historically significant beginning with the Kennedy assignation and ending in the Summer of Love in nearby San Francisco with the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965) sandwiched in between. Since it’s official inception in 1964 until its conclusion in 1973 Vietnam was the uncertain and perpetually threatening backdrop of my generation’s lives. It loomed menacingly in the background like a mugger in a dark alley ready to strike if we ever let down our guard. In 1969 Nixon initiated the first draft lottery whereby there were definite winners and unfortunate losers. Take for example, me, when during the summer of 1970, right after graduating from high school, my birth date was selected number 65 out of 125 possible unfortunate dates that would most definitely be heading to Southeast Asia, unless of course, those born on those unlucky dates had a college deferment. I identify and commiserate with Glazner because maintaining my deferment was the most monumentally important task of my life, and unlike him, my poor grades kept me in a constant state of peril. I just couldn’t get behind the “conflict.” What right did we have to tell other nations what form of government they could have? No one had attacked us on our soil. We could have just as easily have sailed out of the Gulf of Ton-Kin, and only the hubris the of old white men who wouldn’t have to fight kept us from doing exactly that. Whose honor were we protecting – the French? Another sobering life-changing event occurred during the summer of ’70 when a friend from another school that I played summer league basketball with came home from Vietnam in a body bag. He was a good guy, three years older, fun to be around, full of life, full of potential. Now he was dead. No, that just wasn’t for me.
Because of nothing more than the accidents of our births, I was more fortunate than the author because the “conflict” ended during my junior year of college, and I breathed a massive sigh of relief while he wasn’t nearly as fortunate and most definitely would have been inducted into the service had ne not done what I was considering as a real possibility had the war not ended. He went to Canada. States the author:
I had been thinking about Montreal for so long that I decided to make it my destiny. I had been there, It was the closest Canadian city to New York City.
I decided to take my typewriter, a copy of my manuscript, and as much clothing as I could stuff into an old duffle bag. I intended to tell the customs and immigration agents at the Montreal airport that I was a writer, and I was planning to visit for a few weeks – the truth, since I thought that I would need time to make up my mind. I stuffed an old pair of ice skates that once belonged to my father into the bag at the last minute. If I had to, I would say I was going skating. That seemed like something Canadian.
Once my passport arrived in the mail, I was ready to go (p. 347)…
As the plane hurtled through the sky, taking me toward what I hoped would be a useful life, I thought about what I’d like to write – an anti-war story with a happy ending that showed peace winning (p. 353).
In ’67 heavyweight boxing champion Cassius Clay refused his induction into the service and famously said, “Ain’t no Viet Cong, ever called me nigger!” He was convicted of draft evasion and paid the ultimate price of being stripped of his title and banned from boxing for a period of three years during the prime of his career; but he became Muhammed Ali and wound up being revered for his stance. There were Vietnam vets enrolled at my college who had mustered out of the service that were there as part of the G.I. Bill that continues to get watered down to this very day. They all had the same advice – “Don’t go.” To those who went to Canada and were eventually pardoned by President Jerry Ford, it could have very easily have been me, and I feel he was right. If the country ever needed healing, it was after Vietnam.
Glazner’s decision to use the term Spaceship Earth in his title derived from a speech that Adlai Stevenson, who was then our U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, delivered to the Economic and Social Council in Geneva, Switzerland on July 9th, 1965, just five days before he died. Glazner quotes it in his book’s epigram:
We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil; all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and, I will say, the love we give our fragile craft. We cannot maintain it half fortunate, half miserable, half confident, half despairing, half slave – to the ancient enemies of man – half free in a liberation of resources undreamed of until this day. No craft, no crew can travel safely with such vast contradictions. On this resolution depends the survival of us all.
Long story short, every person on earth must know that we are all in this together and the most patently stupid thing we can do is wage war on one another as opposed to working together for the mutual benefit of all involved. Glazner offers his own take on this:
We had to find a way to live together. We had to find a way to love each other and exist together on Adlai Stevenson’s spaceship earth or perish. I could believe in God and no God at the same time as easily as I could I envision the world running like a spaceship where the best talent from everywhere worked together for personal fulfillment and common good (p. 304-305).
So…what’s the most important lesson to be garnered from Glazner’s California: 1963-1967 Spaceship Earth? Life is precious. It’s a terrible thing, bordering on a mortal sin, to wantonly waste a life. Life is for the living, and I’m glad that Glazner has lived long enough to write this resonating memoir.