Jeff and I finished up at about the same time in May ’64. He hopped a flight back to Saigon, his orders permitting a week’s leave in the South Vietnamese capital where he rendezvoused with buddies from the Army Language School in California. All of them Vietnamese linguists, they helped Jeff say a long goodbye to the Paris of the Orient and its night spots.
No one with an intelligence background can
work for us abroad.
Puzzled and with yellow fever vaccine still raging through my system, I replied, “For chrissake! That was nearly a decade ago in the old brown-shoe army. I’m discharged, not even in the Reserves.” He reiterated that it was a firm rule and invoked the Cold War, which of course framed American involvement in Southeast Asia. “Look,” he calmly reasoned, “what would happen if they found out about your Army experience, and broadcast into the field that we’re sending secret agents out there. It’d be all over.”
Suddenly my deep background in Soviet Studies kicked in, and I thought to myself, of course he’s right. It’s a question of perceptions, appearances; the truth has nothing to do with it. We were locked in a struggle with the Soviets for hearts and minds in the Third World. Peace Corps was one of our instruments in the contest. Likewise, the USSR sent thousands of advisers into most of the same countries – agronomists, doctors, teachers as agents of social change promoting their development strategy.
Intellectual ruminations aside, I quickly and angrily got back to reality. I told the messenger that Peace Corps had been aware of my background as far back as the fall when I submitted paperwork to Washington to serve as one of their lecturers. I had even appended my professional resume that included my military service and the Certificate of Merit awarded attesting to my ability in Czech when I left the Army Security Agency.
“You’ve known all this for half a year – why the hell didn’t the man you sent out to recruit me for Thailand inform you of the ‘problem’ at the outset?” The lawyer at the other end smoothly replied, “Sorry about that, he’s a new man. Afraid he didn’t know the rule. I’m really sorry, but got to go.” Click.
As my plans for Thailand went into retreat, Jeff and SDS were mobilizing to confront yet another Vietnam war hawk headed for Indiana. Stahr had invited General Lewis Hershey to speak. A native Hoosier who had attended IU in 1915, Hershey had visited campus a number of times over the years. The general was well-known as the long-time director of the Selective Service System, known to every young male coming of age as ‘the draft'.
While Jeff and fellow activists enjoyed successes against the war hawks at Indiana, my relations with Peace Corps had deteriorated. Washington’s belated invocation of its ‘firm rule’ to abort my mission to Thailand had thrown my professional schedule and personal finances into disarray. I was not pleased.
Long story short: I owed Wisconsin a second summer on the arms control project, but managed to get my obligation deferred until fall ‘66. This in turn necessitated an unpaid leave of absence from Mizzou. I had expected to recover the lost income from Peace Corps, but I now found myself behind the financial 8-ball; the only thing to show for my effort was surefire protection against yellow fever for the next ten years.
*Thomas D. Clark, Indiana University: Midwestern Pioneer, Vol 3 (1977), 592.