Sunday, April 17, 2011
Change Starts With Me
"I have just left your fighting sons in Korea. They have meet all tests there,
and I can report to you without reservation, they are splendid in every way."
-General Douglas MacArthur
By Utah Phillips
We never traveled together at all, you know, since the kids been little they've
always known that I vanished from their lives periodically. And they uh- never
really had any idea of what it is that I do. - What do I do? If I don't know
why should they?
Yeah, Brandon, the fourteen-year-old, he got to travel with me, during the
summer. But we got a chance to talk to each other as adults, you know, as -
well - as adults, instead of just father and son.
We left Boston - we were headed up to the Left Bank Cafe in Blue Hill, Maine - and Brandon, just above Marble Head, turned to me and he said, "How did you get to be like that?"
It's a fair question.
I knew what he meant, but he didn't have all the language to say exactly what
he meant - what he meant to say was: "Why is it that you are fundamentally
alienated from the entire institutional structure of society?"
And I said, "Well, I've never been asked that, you know. Now don't listen to
the radio and don't talk to me for half an hour while I think about it." So we
drove and talked - we were on Highway 1 because it was pretty and close to the
water. Got up toward the Maine border and there was a picnic area, off to the
side some picnic tables. It was a bright, clear day. So I pulled into their
parking lot; we sat down at the picnic tables, and I said, "Now, sit down, I
want to tell you a story, cause I've thought about it."
So I sat down and said, "You know, I was over in Korea." And he said, "Yeah,
I've always wondered about that, did you shoot anybody?" And I said, as
honestly as I could, "I don't know. But that's not the story," I said, this is
what I was telling him:
I was up at Kumori Gap there by the Imjin River. There were about seventy-five thousand Chinese soldiers on the other side and they all wanted me out of there, with every righteous reason that you could think of. I had long since figured out that I was the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time for the most specious of reasons.
But there I was - my clothing was rotting on my body, every exotic mold in the
world was attacking my clothing and my person, my boots had big holes in them from the rot. I wanted to swim in the Imjin River, and get that feeling of death, that feeling of rot off of me. The Chinese soldiers were on the other side; they were swimming, they were having a wonderful time. But there was a rule, a regulation against swimming in the Imjin River. I thought that was foolish, but then a young Korean fellow - cartworked for us as a carpenter - by the name of Young Shik Han. All of his family had been killed off in the war.
Well, he said to me in what English he had, "You know, when we get married
here, the young married couple moves in with the elders, they move in with the grandparents. But there's nothing growing, everything's been destroyed. There's no food. So [when] the first baby's born, the oldest, the old man, goes out with a jug of water and a blanket and sits on the bank of the Imjin River and waits to die. He sits there until he dies, and then will roll down the bank and into the river, and his body will be carried out to the sea. And we don't want you to swim in the Imjin River because our elders are floating out to sea."
That's when it began to crumble for me, you know. That's when I, well, I ran
away, and not just from that, I ran away from the blueprint for self-
destruction I had been handed as a man, for violence in excess. For sexual
excess, for racial excess. We had a commanding officer, who said of the G.I.
babies fathered by G.I.'s and Korean mothers that the Korean government
wouldn't care for so they were in these orphanages, and he said: "Well, as sad
as that is, someday this'll really help the Korean people cause it'll raise the
intelligence level." That's what we were dealing with, you know.
So I ran away. I ran down to Seoul City, down toward Askom. Not to the Army. I ran away to a place called the Korea House. It was a Korean civilians' [group] reaching out to G.I.'s to give them some better vision of who they were than what we were getting up at the divisions. And they hid me for three weeks. Late one night - I didn't have any- they didn't have any clothes that would fit me - late one night, it was a stormy, stormy night, the rain falling in sheets, I could go out, cause they figured no one would see me. We walked through the mud and the rain - Seoul City was devastated. And they took me to a concert at the Aiwa Women's University. Large auditorium with shell holes in the ceiling and the rain pouring through the holes, and clyde lights on the stage hooked up to car batteries. This wasn't the USO, this was the Korean Students' Association.
The person that they invited to sing - I was the only white person there - the
person that they invited to sing was Marian Anderson, great black operatic
soprano who had been on tour in Japan, you see. There she was, singing "Oh
Freedom" and "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen." And I watched her through the rain coming through the ceiling and thought back to Salt Lake [City].
My father, Sid, who ran the Capitol Theatre - it was a movie house but it had
been an old vaudeville house and he wanted to bring back live performances back to the Capitol - in 1948 he invited Marian Anderson to come and sing there. I remembered we went to the, to the train station to pick her up and took her to the biggest hotel in town, The Hotel Utah, but they wouldn't let her stay there, because she was black.
And I remembered my father's humiliation and her humiliation, as I saw her
singing in there, through the rain. And I realized right then, I said,
"Brandon, right then I knew that it was all wrong, and it all had to change.
And that that change had to start with me."