"The 1960s saw an explosion of domestic violence without modern precedent. That was also the time when, in effect, the inmates took over the asylum: When the notion took hold that great universities should be run by their students, and pandering college faculties and administrations supinely acquiesced; when police departments were stripped of the right to police; when the fad for 'deinstitutionalization' emptied mental hospitals of their patients, dumping them on the streets; when criminal behavior was celebrated as social protest; when welfare-rights activists succeeded in transforming the public dole into a permanent entitlement; and when the cultural avant-garde, egged on by the news and entertainment media, declared open war on the values of family, civility, and personal responsibility, and mocked the American dream."
- Richard Nixon, "Beyond Peace"
Well - almost everything old is new again. We haven't seen, yet, an explosion of domestic violence such as that which marked the 1960s. I had a front-row seat to that, in graduate school in Boston and later while doing extensive research at the National Archives in Washington. I've often thought how odd it was that the first time I was exposed to tear gas was in the nation's capital, and the last in wartime Saigon.
I do find a bit in the current controversy surrounding Glenn McConnell's selection as president of the College of Charleston that echoes protests in the 1960s and what Nixon wrote about inmates taking over the asylum. I would remind demonstrators that by far the very best presidents of the college in recent history were not academics.
Ted Stern, the one I think best, was a retired naval officer. It was he who transformed a small, venerable and somewhat sterile institution into what it is today. The perceived wisdom that to be an effective college administrator one must be first immersed in academe I find droll.
I carry no water for Glenn McConnell, but I suspect he is as capable (more capable, actually) than his numerous detractors could possibly imagine.
The second thing in the news currently that reminds me a bit of the insanity that characterized the turbulent 1960s is the recent Fort Hood shooting that killed four (including the shooter) and wounded 16. It's been only about three and half years since an army psychiatrist, Major Nidal Hassan, killed 13 and wounded some 30 at this same installation, and it immediately raised calls to suspend the Department of Defense policy forbidding service personnel other than military police from carrying weapons on base. Surely, when you have mass murder such as these at Fort Hood, and the one some months ago at Naval Shipyard Washington, you have to ask yourself if not lives would have been saved if someone, other than the shooters, had been armed and on the scene.
Most of the commentary I've heard thus far from serving and retired military officers does not support changing DoD's policy. If I had to make that decision, I'd qualify it by saying it depends on where and when changes should apply.
I can give you a prime example from the Vietnam War, when a similar policy was, to put it plainly, nuts.
I spent about my half my time in Vietnam traveling all over the country and its many rivers. The other half I spent at Naval Forces Vietnam headquarters in central Saigon. My BOQ (bachelor officers quarters) was in an old, converted four-story apartment house. It was called the "Splendide," and other than location it was not appropriately named. It was a block away from the Presidential Palace, and next door to the VIP hotel where visiting congressmen and other Washington officials were put up.
Typically, I worked very late. My job required a lot of writing, and I found that easier to do when the headquarters building, about a dozen blocks from my quarters, was all but shut down. I walked from there to the Splendide through a darkened park behind the palace. Sometimes it seemed scary.
Security at my BOQ was provided by two Vietnamese soldiers who, armed with antique M-1 rifles, stood watch in shoulder-high concrete pillboxes on either side of the front entrance. It was not at all uncommon when I returned to see one or both of them asleep - disconcerting, to say the least. In the lobby there was a U.S. soldier and a Vietnamese "Co" (a young woman) who answered the telephone and served as interpreter.
The U.S. soldier's sole duty seemed to be to make sure you checked your weapon (in my case, a .45 caliber sidearm) that he placed in an open cabinet behind the desk each time you entered the quarters.
On at least two occasions a military jeep was blown up while parked just across the street from the BOQ entrance, in full view of the Vietnamese watch. The deed was done by lighting a gasoline drenched rag inserted in the jeep's gas tank. I often wondered why the Viet Cong did not murder all of us while we slept. On Christmas Eve 1964, five years before my tour, a car bomb was exploded at the Brinks Hotel, about a half a mile away. It served as quarters for senior military officers. Two Americans were killed and more than 100 U.S., Australian, and Vietnamese servicemen were wounded.
That was then, and this is now. All things considered, I think if it were up to me I would let our servicemen and women carry their weapons while on base. I think it might deter attacks like Maj. Nidal's and save lives when other criminal or deranged shooters attempt to carry them out.
R.L. Schreadley is a former Post and Courier executive editor. He is a retired naval officer and a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars.