The Art of Tetman Callis

Some of the stories and poems may be inappropriate for persons under 16

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Not proud of it, either

May 27th, 2017 · No Comments

“Somewhere on the periphery of that total Vietnam issue whose daily reports made the morning papers too heavy to bear, lost in the surreal contexts of television, there was a hideous war and all kinds of victims. But there was also a Command that didn’t feel this, that rode us into attrition traps on the backs of fictional kill ratios, and an Administration that believed the Command, a cross-fertilization of ignorance, and a press whose tradition of objectivity and fairness (not to mention self-interest) saw that all of it got space. It was inevitable that once the media took the diversions seriously enough to report them, they also legitimized them. The spokesmen spoke in words that had no currency left as words, sentences with no hope of meaning in the sane world, and if much of it was sharply queried by the press, all of it got quoted. The press got all the facts (more or less), it got too many of them. But it never found a way to report meaningfully about death, which of course was really what it was all about.” – Michael Herr, Dispatches

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Top billing

May 26th, 2017 · No Comments

“I keep thinking about all the kids who got wiped out by seventeen years of war movies before coming to Vietnam to get wiped out for good. You don’t know what a media freak is until you’ve seen the way a few of those grunts would run around during a fight when they knew that there was a television crew nearby; they were actually making war movies in their heads, doing little guts-and-glory Leatherneck tap dances under fire, getting their pimples shot off for the networks. They were insane, but the war hadn’t done that to them. Most combat troops stopped thinking of the war as an adventure after their first few firefights, but there were always the ones who couldn’t let that go, those few who were up there doing numbers for the cameras. A lot of correspondents weren’t much better. We’d all seen too many movies, stayed too long in Television City, years of media glut had made certain connections difficult. The first few times that I got fired at or saw combat deaths, nothing really happened, all the responses got locked in my head. It was the same familiar violence, only moved over to another medium; some kind of jungle play with giant helicopters and fantastic special effects, actors lying out there in canvas body bags waiting for the scene to end so they could get up again and walk it off. But that was some scene (you found out), there was no cutting it.” – Michael Herr, Dispatches

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Testify

May 25th, 2017 · No Comments

“They would ask you with an emotion whose intensity would shock you to please tell it, because they really did have the feeling that it wasn’t being told for them, that they were going through all of this and that somehow no one back in the World knew about it. They may have been a bunch of dumb, brutal killer kids (a lot of correspondents privately felt that), but they were smart enough to know that much. There was a Marine in Hue who had come after me as I walked toward the truck that would take me to the airstrip, he’d been locked in that horror for nearly two weeks while I’d shuttled in and out for two or three days at a time. We knew each other by now, and when he caught up with me he grabbed my sleeve so violently that I thought he was going to accuse me or, worse, try to stop me from going. His face was all but blank with exhaustion, but he had enough feeling left to say, ‘Okay, man, you go on, you go on out of here you cocksucker, but I mean it, you tell it! You tell it, man. If you don’t tell it . . .’ ”– Michael Herr, Dispatches

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Wash day

May 24th, 2017 · No Comments

“The sergeant had lain out near the clearing for almost two hours with a wounded medic. He had called over and over for a medevac, but none had come. Finally, a chopper from another outfit, an LOH, appeared, and he was able to reach it by radio. The pilot told him that he’d have to wait for one of his own ships, they weren’t coming down, and the sergeant told the pilot that if he did not land for them he was going to open fire from the ground and fucking well bring him down. So they were picked up that way, but there were repercussions. The commander’s name was Mal Hombre, and he reached the sergeant later that afternoon from a place with the call signal Violent Meals. ‘God damn it, Sergeant,’ he said through the static, ‘I thought you were a professional soldier.’ ‘I waited as long as I could, Sir. Any longer, I was gonna lose my man.’ ‘This outfit is perfectly capable of taking care of its own dirty laundry. Is that clear, sergeant?’ ‘Colonel, since when is a wounded trooper “dirty laundry”?’ ‘At ease, Sergeant,’ Mal Hombre said, and radio contact was broken.” – Michael Herr, Dispatches (emphasis in original)

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Ways to go

May 23rd, 2017 · No Comments

“There were choices everywhere, but they were never choices that you could hope to make. There was even some small chance for personal style in your recognition of the one thing you feared more than any other. You could die in a sudden bloodburning crunch as your chopper hit the ground like dead weight, you could fly apart so that your pieces would never be gathered, you could take one neat round in the lung and go out hearing only the bubble of the last few breaths, you could die in the last stage of malaria with that faint tapping in your ears, and that could happen to you after months of firefights and rockets and machine guns. Enough, too many, were saved for that, and you always hoped that no irony would attend your passing. You could end in a pit somewhere with a spike through you, everything stopped forever except for the one or two motions, purely involuntary, as though you could kick it all away and come back. You could fall down dead so that the medics would have to spend half an hour looking for the hole that killed you, getting more and more spooked as the search went on. You could be shot, mined, grenaded, rocketed, mortared, sniped at, blown up and away so that your leavings had to be dropped into a sagging poncho and carried to Graves Registration, that’s all she wrote. It was almost marvelous.” – Michael Herr, Dispatches

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The lion-hearted

May 22nd, 2017 · No Comments

“It was hard to know what you really learned about courage. How many times did somebody have to run in front of a machine gun before it became an act of cowardice? What about those acts that didn’t require courage to perform, but made you a coward if you didn’t? It was hard to know at the moment, easy to make a mistake when it came, like the mistake that all you needed to perform a witness act were your eyes. A lot of what people called courage was only undifferentiated energy cut loose by the intensity of the moment, mind loss that sent the actor on an incredible run; if he survived it he had the chance later to decide whether he’d really been brave or just overcome with life, even ecstasy. A lot of people found the guts just to call it all off and refuse to ever go out anymore, they turned and submitted to the penalty end of the system or they just split. A lot of reporters, too, I had friends in the press corps who went out once or twice and then never again. Sometimes I thought that they were the sanest, most serious people of all, although to be honest I never said so until my time there was almost over.” – Michael Herr, Dispatches

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Getting off

May 21st, 2017 · No Comments

“ ‘Quakin’ and Shakin’, ’ they called it, great balls of fire, Contact. Then it was you and the ground: kiss it, eat it, fuck it, plow it with your whole body, get as close to it as you can without being in it yet or of it, guess who’s flying around about an inch above your head? Pucker and submit, it’s the ground. Under Fire would take you out of your head and out of your body too, the space you’d seen a second ago between subject and object wasn’t there anymore, it banged shut in a fast wash of adrenaline. Amazing, unbelievable, guys who’d played a lot of hard sports said they’d never felt anything like it, the sudden drop and rocket rush of the hit, the reserves of adrenaline you could make available to yourself, pumping it up and putting it out until you were lost floating in it, not afraid, almost open to clear orgasmic death-by-drowning in it, actually relaxed. Unless of course you’d shit your pants or were screaming or praying or giving anything at all to the hundred-channel panic that blew word salad all around you and sometimes clean through you. Maybe you couldn’t love the war and hate it inside the same instant, but sometimes those feelings alternated so rapidly that they spun together in a strobic wheel rolling all the way up until you were literally High on War, like it said on all the helmet covers.” – Michael Herr, Dispatches

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The field of battle

May 20th, 2017 · No Comments

“Roof of the Rex, ground zero, men who looked like they’d been suckled by wolves, they could die right there and their jaws would work for another half-hour. This is where they asked you, ‘Are you a Dove or a Hawk?’ and ‘Would you rather fight them here or in Pasadena?’ Maybe we could beat them in Pasadena, I’d think, but I wouldn’t say it, especially not here where they knew that I knew that they weren’t really fighting anybody anywhere anyway, it made them pretty touchy. That night I listened while a colonel explained the war in terms of protein. We were a nation of high-protein, meat-eating hunters, while the other guy just ate rice and a few grungy fish-heads. We were going to club them to death with our meat; what could you say except, ‘Colonel, you’re insane’? It was like turning up in the middle of some black looney-tune where the Duck had all the lines.” – Michael Herr, Dispatches (emphasis in original)

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Crazy days

May 19th, 2017 · No Comments

“A lot of men found their compassion in the war, some found it and couldn’t live with it, war-washed shutdown of feeling, like who gives a fuck. People retreated into positions of hard irony, cynicism, despair, some saw the action and declared for it, only heavy killing could make them feel so alive. And some just went insane, followed the black-light arrow around the bend and took possession of the madness that had been waiting there in trust for them for eighteen or twenty-five or fifty years. Every time there was combat you had a license to go maniac, everyone snapped over the line at least once there and nobody noticed, they hardly noticed if you forgot to snap back again.” – Michael Herr, Dispatches

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This ain’t no game, homes

May 18th, 2017 · No Comments

“One night I woke up and heard the sounds of a firefight going on kilometers away, a ‘skirmish’ outside our perimeter, muffled by distance to sound like the noises we made playing guns as children, KSSSHH KSSSHH; we knew it was more authentic than BANG BANG, it enriched the game and this game was the same, only way out of hand at last, too rich for all but a few serious players. The rules now were tight and absolute, no arguing over who missed who and who was really dead; No fair was no good, Why me? the saddest question in the world.” – Michael Herr, Dispatches (emphases in original)

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Weariness terminal

May 17th, 2017 · No Comments

“Imagine being too tired to snap a flak jacket closed, too tired to clean your rifle, too tired to guard a light, too tired to deal with the half-inch margins of safety that moving through the war often demanded, just too tired to give a fuck and then dying behind that exhaustion. There were times when the whole war itself seemed tapped of its vitality: epic enervation, the machine running half-assed and depressed, fueled on the watery residues of last year’s war-making energy. Entire divisions would function in a bad dream state, acting out a weird set of moves without any connection to their source. Once I talked for maybe five minutes with a sergeant who had just brought his squad in from a long patrol before I realized that the dopey-dummy film over his eyes and the fly abstraction of his words were coming from a deep sleep. He was standing there at the bar of the NCO club with his eyes open and a beer in his hand, responding to some dream conversation far inside his head.” – Michael Herr, Dispatches

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Quick, cover that up

May 16th, 2017 · No Comments

“Year after year, season after season, wet and dry, using up options faster than rounds on a machine-gun belt, we called it right and righteous, viable and even almost won, and it still only went on the way it went on. When all the projections of intent and strategy twist and turn back on you, tracking team blood, ‘sorry’ just won’t cover it. There’s nothing so embarrassing as when things go wrong in a war.” – Michael Herr, Dispatches

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Truther

May 15th, 2017 · No Comments

“There wasn’t a day when someone didn’t ask me what I was doing there. Sometimes an especially smart grunt or another correspondent would even ask me what I was really doing there, as though I could say anything honest about it except ‘Blah blah blah cover the war’ or ‘Blah blah blah write a book.’ Maybe we accepted each other’s stories about why we were there at face value: the grunts who ‘had’ to be there, the spooks and civilians whose corporate faith had led them there, the correspondents whose curiosity or ambition drew them over. But somewhere all the mythic tracks intersected, from the lowest John Wayne wet-dream to the most aggravated soldier-poet fantasy, and where they did I believe that everyone knew everything about everyone else, every one of us there was a true volunteer. Not that you didn’t hear some overripe bullshit about it: Hearts and Minds, Peoples of the Republic, tumbling dominoes, maintaining the equilibrium of the Dingdong by containing the ever encroaching Doodah; you could also hear the other, some young soldier speaking in all bloody innocence, saying, ‘All that’s just a load, man. We’re here to kill gooks. Period.’ Which wasn’t at all true of me. I was there to watch.” – Michael Herr, Dispatches (emphases in original)

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National war zone

May 14th, 2017 · No Comments

“You could be in the most protected space in Vietnam and still know that your safety was provisional, that early death, blindness, loss of legs, arms or balls, major and lasting disfigurement—the whole rotten deal—could come in on the freakyfluky as easily as in the so-called expected ways, and you heard so many of those stories it was a wonder anyone was left alive to die in firefights and mortar-rocket attacks. After a few weeks, when the nickel had jarred loose and dropped and I saw that everyone around me was carrying a gun, I also saw that any one of them could go off at any time, putting you where it wouldn’t matter whether it had been an accident or not. The roads were mined, the trails booby-trapped, satchel charges and grenades blew up jeeps and movie theaters, the VC got work inside all the camps as shoeshine boys and laundresses and honey-dippers, they’d starch your fatigues and burn your shit and then go home and mortar your area.” – Michael Herr, Dispatches

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Taking secrets to the grave

May 13th, 2017 · No Comments

“Patrol went up the mountain. One man came back. He died before he could tell us what happened.” – Unidentified U.S. soldier (quoted by Michael Herr in Dispatches)

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On the national seal

May 12th, 2017 · No Comments

“Vietnam harbored a variety of exotic animals, and they were often attracted by our perimeter lights. I once watched an anteater collect dinner for nearly an hour. Bats swooped at us; their sonar seemed to be attracted by the telephones. And there were the reptiles, especially the ‘fuck-you’ lizard. Science calls him the gecko, after his distinctive call. Pale turquoise with orange spots, this ten-inch relative of the dinosaur has sung his mournful song for tens of thousands of years without being understood. Now he crept up to a guard tower in the night, eased up to the silent American guard, and hollered, ‘FUCK YOU!’ The guard jumped out of his skin and, often, out of the tower. The ‘fuck-you’ lizard is as much a symbol of Vietnam as the eagle is a symbol of America.” – John Ketwig, …and a hard rain fell

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Uncivil war

May 10th, 2017 · No Comments

“One of our men was killed when he approached a forlorn dog that had a satchel charge cleverly sewn into its belly. (A stupid mistake. Dogs were eaten in Vietnam. Cats were a delicacy. Pets did not exist, and the unusual in The Nam was usually deadly.) More common, and perhaps the most heartbreaking memory of all, were booby-trapped kids. A tiny child dressed in rags, unaware of the lethal package strapped to his back, approached. Too young to understand his lot in life, his eyes still sparkled. A GI offered candy or a cigarette. The child radiated joy, and innocently came closer to explode in a crowd.” – John Ketwig, …and a hard rain fell

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Careful where you put that

May 9th, 2017 · No Comments

“Like everything in The Nam, even lovemaking could be deadly. One member of our company, affectionately referred to as ‘Champ,’ contracted gonorrhea seventeen times in twelve months. A legendary superstrain, the ‘black syph,’ was supposedly incurable. Fearful of introducing this horror to Hometown, U.S.A., the army supposedly sent ‘black syph’ victims to Okinawa (Camp Crotch-rot) and listed them as missing in action. Rumors of razor blades in a girl’s sex organs abounded, though I doubted that would be medically possible. Short-timers warned the new arrivals against falling asleep after sex, for fear of castration. The pleasure palaces in Saigon were legendary; but up-country sex was a demeaning, mechanical act, a reminder of how desperate and vulnerable the fatigue and loneliness and terror had made us.” – John Ketwig, …and a hard rain fell

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You put your money down and you take your chances

May 8th, 2017 · No Comments

“The barber was too young for military service, but he was a fine barber. He shaved you with little tin razors that looked like toys, and carefully shaped your eyebrows and shaved the insides of your ears. After each shave or haircut, he urged you to lean forward and ‘popped’ your vertebrae into place one at a time. All good things must come to an end, and one day he announced he was being drafted. He needed three hundred dollars to bribe his way out. A lot of us could relate to that, and a collection was raised. One night we shot him dead, when he was trying to crawl through the wire with satchel charges on his belt.” – John Ketwig, …and a hard rain fell

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You’re next

May 7th, 2017 · No Comments

“It was a world of exhaustion, heat, mud, mildew, rot, and few pleasures. You peed into a large tube fashioned from the metal shipping canisters that had brought artillery rounds from The World. You ate powdered eggs and powdered potatoes and drank powdered milk. The water tasted like medicine, and the Kool-Aid tasted like fruit-flavored medicine. Artillery Hill roared, and helicopter blades constantly chopped at the humid air. You couldn’t get clean. You couldn’t get rested. You grew accustomed to all that; but you never grew accustomed to working on trucks with bloodied seats and giant holes torn in their floorboards. You never grew accustomed to the chatter of a nearby machine gun, or long hours on a guard post, peering into the rain and fog, wondering if a tiny form had crawled through the wire and was behind you preparing to slit your throat. You couldn’t grow accustomed to the fear. There was a war all around, and you knew one of these days it was going to ride into town like a gunfighter dressed in black. How would you react? Would you survive? In one piece? Every second brought you nearer to it. How would you die? Loved ones were far, far away.” – John Ketwig, …and a hard rain fell

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They run and hide their heads

May 6th, 2017 · No Comments

“It rained every day, starting about nine in the morning and pouring in translucent gray sheets until about midnight. The rain in The Nam was as different from the rain in the United States as anything we would encounter in this strange land. The drops were as large as marbles and driven with enough force to sting when they hit you. We were in a wide valley, and there was no runoff. There were areas of shallow mud and areas of deep mud, but there were no areas without mud. Most of our world was under water, and you had to know where to step.” – John Ketwig, …and a hard rain fell

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The hour of the rough beast is come

May 5th, 2017 · No Comments

“It was a strange time in American history, a time when many seemingly unrelated events were combining to shake the very foundations of our most cherished institutions. It was a time of the Beatles and sub-orbital flights, of civil rights marches in the deep South, and black-and-white TV. After the simple satisfaction of the fifties and the patriotic frenzy of the New Frontier, and after the Bay of Pigs, and the Cuban missile crisis, and that day in Dallas, we all felt some kind of ominous tension. Even our high school teachers had seemed somewhat bewildered. You couldn’t watch police dogs attacking blacks on the evening news and believe the United States was the land of the free and the home of the brave. You used to think the Commies were far away, but then they showed up ninety miles from Florida. You used to think boys had short hair, but then the British invaded, and you looked at history books, and there really wasn’t anything wrong with long hair. The grown-ups objected, then suggested you go to church, and Christ’s hair was on his shoulders, and everything seemed suspect. They spoke of obligations to your country and whispered about tax breaks. They told you to defend freedom and then used cattle prods on the Freedom Riders in Alabama.” – John Ketwig, …and a hard rain fell

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Slipping away

May 4th, 2017 · No Comments

“In his attempt to keep planning for the war as closely held as possible, Lyndon Johnson would not give accurate economic projections, would not ask for a necessary tax raise, and would in fact have his own military planners be less than candid with his own economic planners . . . . The reasons for Johnson’s unwillingness to be straightforward about the financing were familiar. He was hoping that the worst would not come true, that it would remain a short war, and he feared that if the true economic cost of the war became visible to the naked eye, he would lose his Great Society programs. The result was that his economic planning was a living lie . . . the Great Society programs were passed but never funded on any large scale.” – David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (emphasis in original)

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Play balls

May 3rd, 2017 · No Comments

“Westy [General and former Eagle Scout William C. Westmoreland] at the Cercle Sportif, playing his last tennis game, at the end lining up the little Vietnamese urchins who had served as ball boys, street-tough from some of the meanest streets in the world, unlikely candidates for Eagle Scouts, learning the black-market rate before they learned arithmetic, knowing even before they reached their teens the full glory of East-West decadence. Westy lining them up as if in company formation, telling an American who had played with him to translate. ‘You have been my ball boys.’ Nods of their heads. ‘You have served well. You have been faithful.’ More nods of heads. ‘I would like to reward you.’ Nods. Expectant smiles. The tip. ‘Here is your reward. You may have all my tennis balls.’ Looks of immense disappointment.” – David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (emphasis in original)

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The whiteface follies

May 2nd, 2017 · No Comments

“For all the evidence the Vietcong gave of their combat toughness, and for all the abundant evidence of the ferocity and professionalism (and size) of the North Vietnamese army there was a certain Caucasian arrogance about the Vietnamese ability, a belief that when pitted against American troops, the Vietnamese would have to cave in, that American troops with their fire power, with their air support, their helicopters, would simply be too much . . . with technology stripped away, were the Americans that impressive? Would they be braver, more willing to die than their enemies?” – David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest

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Crusts for the little people

May 1st, 2017 · No Comments

“If we get into this war I know what’s going to happen. Those damn conservatives are going to sit in Congress and they’re going to use this war as a way of opposing my Great Society legislation. . . . They hate this stuff, they don’t want to help the poor and the Negroes but they’re afraid to be against it at a time like this when there’s been all this prosperity. But the war, oh, they’ll like the war. They’ll take the war as their weapon. They’ll be against my programs because of the war. I know what they’ll say, they’ll say they’re not against it, not against the poor, but we have this job to do, beating the Communists. We beat the Communists first, then we can look around and maybe give something to the poor.” – President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 (quoted by David Halberstam in The Best and the Brightest)

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I’ll see your destruction and raise you some death

April 30th, 2017 · No Comments

“It is the nature of escalation that each move passes the option to the other side, while at the same time the party which seems to be losing will be tempted to keep raising the ante. To the extent that the response to a move can be controlled, that move is probably ineffective. If the move is effective it may not be possible to control or accurately anticipate the response. Once on the tiger’s back we cannot be sure of picking the place to dismount.” – U.S. Under Secretary of State George W. Ball, October 1964 (quoted by David Halberstam in The Best and the Brightest)

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To the victor go the spoils

April 29th, 2017 · No Comments

“When you win big, you can have anything you want for a time. You come home with that big landslide and there isn’t a one of them who’ll stand in your way. No, they’ll be glad to be aboard and to have their photograph taken with you and be part of all that victory. They’ll come along and they’ll give you almost everything you want for a while and then they’ll turn on you. They always do. They’ll lay in waiting, waiting for you to make a slip and you will. They’ll give you almost everything and then they’ll make you pay for it. They’ll get tired of all those columnists writing about how smart you are and how weak they are and then the pendulum will swing back.” – President Lyndon B. Johnson (quoted by David Halberstam in The Best and the Brightest)

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You can’t get there from here

April 28th, 2017 · No Comments

“To make it in America, to rise, there has to be some sort of propellant; sheer talent helps, but except in very rare instances, talent is not enough. Money helps, family ties and connections; for someone without these the way to the power elite can seem too far, too hopeless the challenge.” – David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest

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In God’s country

April 27th, 2017 · No Comments

“The land was hard and unfertile and taught its own lessons, stern lessons. The virtues were the old ones and the sins were the old ones, and the Bible still lived. No one ever expected life to be easy, and forgiveness was not the dominating trait. It was not a land which produced indulgence of any sort, and people who grew up there did not talk about life styles. They talked about God, about serving, about doing what He wanted. It was much admired to make use of what God had given you and to obey authority. If you didn’t, dark prophecies were offered and you were considered, at the least, wayward.” – David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest

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