HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

August 6, 2007
Extended Correspondence


Richard Norsworthy has indicated the he would prefer to have the complete correspondence between him and me, about my "From Liberty Street" piece of July 23rd, posted here. So here it is -- three e-mails from him to me, and two from me to him.

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Mr. Turner,

Question:  Are you a veteran of any branch of our military?  I really am curious.  I really want to know.  I am a veteran of the Korean War.  I cry sometimes when I remember George Campbell, whose caring gesture led to his death in Korea instead of mine.

I cry sometimes when a widow with children present, or a parent, is given a flag at the conclusion of a military funeral, especially when the death resulted from service abroad in another of the three senseless wars in succession which we have had to endure.  I "know" that soldier, or sailor, or airman, or coastguardsman.  I KNOW THEM, as only another of them, perhaps, can.  

I cry sometimes when I watch troops saying goodbye to their loved ones as they are deployed, perhaps to die in another senseless war.  I cry sometimes when I watch their safe return to their loved ones, and mourn those who did not return alive.

So, my tears are manufactured, are they.  Yes, you said they were:  "if you cry more over the death of a soldier than you do for the death of a teenager involved in a foolish automobile wreck, then you are shedding manufactured tears."

More often than not, and too often as we know, the teenager who dies in the "foolish automobile wreck" you cite is doing something foolish, not the wreck.  The soldier, whether he likes it or not, is doing what he signed up to do, and pledged his life and his honor to do, and what he is ordered to do, by his superiors right or wrong.

Oh, yes. invoke Nuremburg.  For the soldier on the line, it is not so simple.  What is simple is your commentary, overly simplistic, and tragic, and shallow.

For your information, Mr. Turner, my tears are not manufactured.  They flow from a deep personal connectedness to every member of the military who has ever served, is serving, or may have to serve in some sad future.

Rev. Richard J. Norsworthy,
UU Minister, Retired,
United States Air Force 1950-1954

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Dear Mr. Norsworthy:

In response to your first question -- yes, I was a soldier, a helicopter pilot. A number of the guys I flew with got their heads blown off in Vietnam.

I'm afraid you are precisely what I was writing about. In setting one category of human life above another, you make it easier to take life. So what if the teenager was foolish? Might not somebody have loved him?

You speak of senseless wars. Why do you think we engage in senseless wars? Could military romanticism have something to do with it? Soldiers are human beings, no more or less important than other human beings. Wearing a spiffy uniform does not set one above the rest of the human race.

You can cry for whomever you wish, of course. I don't cry for people unless I actually know and love them. But I am disgusted by the brutal taking of life and I know that it is always accompanied by a worked-up emotionalism. That was the point of my little essay.

Sincerely

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Dear Mr. Turner:

You have my sympathy.  I have known a lot of vets, but none as cold as you. I do not put one death above another.  "Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee."  I am disgusted by the brutal taking of life.  It has driven me from one danger to another and yet another.   Any of us in the military during wartime probably knew someone whose head was blown off.  I did.  I still cry for his loss and the other 58,000 in Korea.  My war did not make me a super patriot, or one overly given to emotionalism, especially militaristic super-patriotic emotionalism.  It made me turn myself into a Unitarian Universalist minister, who has devoted his ministerial life to working for peace and caring enough to cry for those who die.  And, yes, I weep for the "foolish" teenager, and mourn the loss as one who loved though I knew nought him or her.

So, you say I "speak of senseless wars." [And you continue on] "Why do you think we engage in senseless wars? Could military romanticism have something to do with it? Soldiers are human beings, no more or less important than other human beings. Wearing a spiffy uniform does not set one above the rest of the human race."  Of course and of course not.   At 75 years of age, I probably know as much about the subject as you, but I, undoubtedly on my part, seem to care more.  I seem to recall that helicopter pilots in Vietnam wore "spiffy", or, perhaps, I should say:  "a rather cavalier" form of dress in the air.  The "grunts" on the ground wore dirt and sweat and blood-stained uniforms 24/7 for days on end.

But, then, you didn't know them, so, perhaps, you didn't care.

I come from a family in which my brother, my eldest son, and myself have served in the military for a grand total of 61 years, as best as I can recall.  We have, each one, considered it a duty, not to be done uncritically, but to be done.  My brother took time off from his duties as a Senior Master Sergeant, and one of six or eight Air Force Illustrators assigned  to the Pentagon, to show up at my station (I belonged to the Peace Movement which was charged to maintain some enthusiasm and order on the demonstration route) of the March on Washington.  He worked alongside me for a couple of hours, then said  he really had to get to his other work and would just drop in line and march awhile with the brother and sisters.  As for me, I could have kissed Harry Truman for firing McArthur.  Had he not, that war would have become even more senseless with the General's proposed crossing of the Yalu River into China.

I don't know why you decided to make your response to my comment on your article a "private" one, and then advertised that decision in the HSJ. Having soberly read, digested, and ruminated on your email to me, I could hazard a guess.  But, then, I am known as one who shoots from the hip (or is it the lip), or both, so having missed completely, I guess, just what the "point of (your) little essay" was, I shall close with the observation that I am sorry your emotionalism seems  to work better at anger than at grief. I apologize in advance for suggesting that you are pretty goddam arrogant to suggest that another's grief, in the absence of personal knowledge (and, acquaintance?) is "manufactured."  It reminds me of the charge, often brought against those of us who are religious liberals, that we are "arid intellectuals."  Wonder where that comes from?

Sincerely,

The Rev. Richard J. Norsworthy:  (always robed in his ceremonial functions) who feels somehow "specially trained" and "set apart" by ordination to do a special job in our congregations, rather like the policeman, or soldier, or postman or the judge or the nurse, or the doctor, or, or, or,,,,, in his or her profession.

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Dear Mr. Norsworthy:

I have no wish to quarrel with you. You made a hostile comment about something I wrote and I simply answered you.

Perhaps I am the coldest person you've encountered. If that's the case, so be it.

Cold or not, I know this: ginned up emotionalism about the nobility of soldiers is a primary device in the arsenal of warmongers. I'm certainly not including you among the latter and I applaud the efforts you have made to protest wars. Nonetheless, the kind of emotionalism you describe is used by manipulative officials to send armies off to do terrible things. You speak approvingly of a duty to serve in those armies. Perhaps you can enlighten me about the nature of a duty to commit violence at the command of a foolish or venal government.

I made the remark about a teenager killed in an automobile wreck because you, yourself, distinguished that sort of death from the death of a soldier and implied that the former deserved less grief than a death in combat. If you don't believe that, fine. If you do, then I disagree with you.

As for tears, they are not the only signs of strong feeling.

I didn't put my original answer to you on the web site because I wasn't eager to say publicly anything that might be taken as critical of your argument. But if you would like our correspondence to be public, just let me know and I'll be happy to post the whole thing.

Sincerely,

John Turner

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Fine by me.  I would think one and all might learn something from our correspondence.

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If readers have opinions about any of this, I think Mr. Norsworthy would be interested in seeing them, as would I. So send them along.


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