I did the original draft of this post close to two weeks ago, but decided to hold off posting it for reasons that will become clear as we go through the new version below. I want to dedicate this post to those former high school classmates who were on my Facebook “friends” list with whom I have had an interesting exchange of comments in the last week. I’m not going to name names. There is no need for that because the relevant parties will know who I am talking about, if they happen to read this.
The whole thing started over a week ago when one of my friends called me Bernard instead of Bernhard. You would think that someone that I went to school with for six years and whose brother I considered my best friend would know my name. At least he did not call me Bernie, which is the name that most people called me back in high school. That is the name I absolutely hate. Even my mother really disliked people calling me Bernie. She often asked me why I put up with it. I explained that I had tried to get people to call me Bernhard when we first moved to Willow Grove, PA, and I started attending North Willow Grove elementary school. That was an exercise in futility. Back in those days I did not enjoy banging my head against the brick wall, so I gave up and resigned myself to being Bernie. I also swore to myself that the first chance I got I would change my name to something people would have a hard time screwing up.
In 1966, I went off to college at what is now Carnegie-Mellon University. There my friends call me “Beatle” because I looked a lot like John Lennon in those days. I wish I had a picture of me back then that I could show you. Unfortunately, I don’t. Oh well! I got kicked out of Carnegie in February 1968 for my rotten grades. They really were pitiful! The only excuse I can offer is that I had lost my mother suddenly in January 1966. I was very close to my mother and losing her was a terrible emotional blow that I was not prepared to handle. It took me a long time to come to grips with the fact that my mother was gone. To this day, I still miss her terribly. She would love being a grandmother and my wife and children would adore her.
Anyway, because of getting kicked out of school I lost my student deferment. 1968 was the height of the Vietnam war and the US government had reinstituted the military draft. However, if you were a college student in math or science, you qualified for a deferment. Like so many young people my age back then, I was radicalized in college. One of the things that was the impetus for my shift to the last was the Vietnam war and the compulsory draft. To this day I am opposed to compulsory military service for anyone who has moral objections to war. The only moral deferment available back then was if you belonged to one of a very limited number of religious denominations. Since I did not belong to any religious denomination in those days (a story for another day), I could not apply for conscientious objector status. I was ordered to take a pre-induction physical, which I passed. That was a bit of a surprise, seeing as how in those days I was quite nearsighted and had very flat feet. Both of those conditions disqualified me from going to the Air Force Academy, which is what I wanted to do back in junior high school. I wanted to be an astronaut and the best way was to become a military pilot. Apparently, myopia and flat feet will keep you from being a pilot but will not keep you from being cannon fodder.
Since I really had no desire to come home from Vietnam in a body bag and no desire to kill people 10,000 miles away for no good reason, not that there is ever a good reason for war, I basically had three choices: go to prison, move to Canada, or go underground and hope the government didn’t think I’m important enough to hunt down. I ultimately opted for the third choice. That was the main reason I ended up leaving the Philadelphia area and moving to Chicago. Moving that was not what most people would consider moving. I basically snuck out of town and hitchhiked West, planning to go to California or join a commune somewhere in the Rockies. I got as far as Chicago when my money ran out, so I decided to stay through to winter to try and put money together and continue my trip in the spring. Well, life has a way of interfering with the best laid plans of mice and men. A number of things happened that delayed my leaving Chicago for 23 years. Again, that is a story for another time.
Being in Chicago, where no one knew who I was, gave me the opportunity to reinvent myself and to give myself a new name. I was mulling over possible choices when something very interesting happened. I was living in the Old Town section of Chicago – the hippie district. I had made some new acquaintances In Old Town. We were all hanging out in Lincoln Park one warm fall day, smoking some dope and drinking wine. One of the guys I was hanging out with was a biker who called himself “JC”. Guess what that stood for! I jokingly grabbed an empty beer can that was lying in the grass nearby (not our litter) and filled it with water from the lagoon in the park. I then poured the water over JC’s head and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” We all had a good laugh.
JC said, “I guess that makes you John the Baptist.” I thought about it for a minute and then said, “I guess it does.” That became my new name – John the Baptist. It’s amazing sometimes how things happen that, when you reflect back on them, you realize how appropriate that thing was. That was the case with my new name. I’ve always been a very spiritual person and have always admired Jesus and his followers. So, a New Testament name really was quite appropriate. The names stayed with me through the last 50 years, although I have shortened it to just John.
Everyone I know here in Mountain Home calls me John, even my wife and my brother. Some of my Facebook friends who I knew back in Willow Grove growing up seem to have a real problem with my new name. I must say that most of them do call me John, but there are a few who seem to have a problem with it. That brings us back to the exchange on Facebook.
One of my Facebook friends from my high school days posted a comment about a supposed anti-fascist, radical left-wing group that was promising mayhem in the streets all over the country on November 4. This person said that, politics aside, he was afraid and for his safety since apparently whatever town he lives in is on this groups list of mayhem sites. He wanted to know what he should do, whether he should get his guns and be prepared to defend himself and why was the government not doing anything about this group.
First of all, I have a question: how the hell do you discuss something like this without discussing the politics involved? I originally wrote a comment that addressed the politics of the situation. However, my son Michael, who is my editor, took me to task for not taking my friends concerns seriously and using those concerns as an excuse to get on my soapbox, something I do quite often! 🙂
He was right. I rewrote my comment to address my friends concerns. I basically told him that he needed to relax-a nice way of saying “don’t be so paranoid”. I also said that I had never heard of this group and that, more than likely, all this talk of mayhem in the streets was just a public relations stunt from some crackpots. If this group was a real threat, I told him, the government security forces were more than likely well aware of the and their activities.
I got two replies to my comment. One was from the original poster him who said that he had posted this as a joke! Really? Somehow, I fail to see the humor in this. A joke is supposed to be funny. There is nothing funny about violence against people or property. Although I am a fairly strong-leaning leftist, I do not condone violence. In fact, I am a pacifist. The second reply was from the person I mentioned at the beginning of this post who got my name wrong. He tried to convince me that this group posed a real threat. As I mentioned there on Facebook, I know very little of this group and I may be wrong, but I can’t seem to find much to suggest they are as threatening as that person had claimed. I suspect that both of these gentlemen are politically conservative, possibly political fundamentalists as well as possibly religious fundamentalists.
Political fundamentalists, especially those on the far right, are quick to condemn anything that smacks of violence coming from the left. Well, what about violence from the far right? I assume they have heard of groups like the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi party, and other so-called “white supremacists” groups. For a long time, I tended to tone down my political rhetoric because I live in an area that is sympathetic to the views of these radical right-wing groups and I feared, not so much for my own safety, but for the safety of my wife and my children. I still tone it down a little, but now that my children are grown, I feel I can be more outspoken in my political rhetoric. My kids are old enough to be vigilant, if necessary.
Speaking of vigilance, one of our Founding Fathers supposedly said something along the lines of, “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” What that means, in my opinion, is not that we all need to arm ourselves and go around shooting people for no good reason. Rather, it means that we all need to look out for each other’s liberties and make sure that no one, not even the government, deprives us of those liberties. In principle, I agree with at least one thing from the far right: the government that governs the least governs best. But that idea presupposes a populace that understands the idea of liberty and justice for all people, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or even sexual orientation. Sad to say, the American people are not that populace…
John the Baptist, the New Testament prophet, is often referred to as being a voice crying in the wilderness. While I do not consider myself any kind of religious prophet I do sometimes, actually quite often, feel as if I am crying out in the wilderness. That’s why I feel that the name John is very much appropriate for me and I would really appreciate it if people would respect my wishes and call me John. But, if you must use my real name, please get it right! It is Bernhard, with an H, not Bernard. I am neither a dog running around with a cask of brandy around my neck, nor am I a French saint/abbot. I am only an old hippie trying to make my way in the world.
Peace and love!