Tag Archives: Vietnam war

Shirley Jackson, are you laughing? Lotteries in American life – a RANT

The Lottery and Other Stories (FSG Classics)

I’ve entered the NJ Covid vaccination lottery six times over the past five weeks. Three times, I wanted to schedule my husband and myself for vaccination. We started out using two devices, and worked up to five. No luck. 

An unexpected excess of doses at a local non-profit enabled us to get our first shots early in February. 

Three times since them, I’ve used a now standard “hack” to try to help friends get appointments. ONCE it worked, to my intense gratification and my friend’s very great relief. She got her first shot two days after the lottery.

Another effort came close, but the appointment scheduling site shut down prematurely, without explanation. Not a computer crash or site freeze-up, just an announcement that no more appointments were available, an instantaneous drop from 40 to zero. One time all the numbers we got (ten devices in use) were too high. Our best (lowest) number was 4350, with about 3190 appointments available. We all closed out and returned to our day’s activities.

We’re getting better at this, nerves not so badly shredded… We give ourselves credit for a good try. Those still unvaccinated return to the on-line vigil, checking on drugstores, clinics, supermarkets, doctors offices and every friend they have. Three days to wait for the next LOTTERY. Just to be clear, my friends and I are age 65 and above.

WHAT IN THE NAME OF GOD IS WRONG WITH THE United States? Why are life-saving drugs being allocated by chance, by lottery? My heart breaks as one Covid death after another is announced, often on Facebook with pictures of the lost loved ones. These are people who received good medical care, not like at the start of the pandemic. The medical community has learned so much, but sometimes the disease wins. These are people who, had they been vaccinated six weeks ago, might not now be dead. I feel sad and tired. 

So, Shirley Jackson, are you laughing? Jackson was born in 1916, hence she survived the 1918 influenza pandemic. I doubt that’s what she was thinking about when she wrote her controversial short story, “The Lottery”, which was originally published in The New Yorker.  Have you read it? I wrote about it in this blog. See post dated November 11, 2018. https://amgreader.wordpress.com/2018/11/11/memories-of-high-school-english-with-mrs-gerhardt-1964-65/ The story’s publication generated hate mail. The plot? In a small town, one person is ritually stoned to death each year. We aren’t told why, aside from that it has long been customary, but is now questioned.

Why were people so upset by the story? (Jackson was taken by surprise.) I guess no one wants to believe a community could do something so awful. Wikipedia offers explanations in its article about the story, under the heading “Themes”. The discussions of “Reception” and “Critical Interpretations” are also interesting. The town in the author’s mind was her then residence, Bennington, Vermont. Riddle that!

The Wikipedia article is well worth reading.

Moving on to another American lottery… To determine which young men would serve in the Vietnam era military, the Selective Service System (aka the Draft, aka conscription) conducted a lottery, first drawing numbers on December 1, 1969. Men born from January 1, 1944 to December 31, 1950 were subject to that lottery. My generation. The idea of the lottery was to abolish the complex system of classifications and deferments and establish a more fair and universal system to provide soldiers for the increasingly unpopular Vietnam conflict. The first date selected was September 14. Men born on that date were #1, at the top of the list. The lottery had unexpected consequences. Unwilling soldiers can be fractious.

I remember an argument I had with a friend. I referred to the Lottery as a way to “pick people to die”. She pointed out that most draftees would come home alive. I said that if you die, you’re 100% dead. 

I don’t like the “all volunteer” military better than the Lottery. The Lottery forced every man, even the rich and well connected (some of whom ultimately found loopholes), to face up to the consequences of war. Conscription is still with us. Every American male must register with Selective Service at age 18. 

So here we are again, using chance to allocate a valuable resource. As far as I know, the AtlantiCare Lottery for appointments at the Atlantic City vaccination megasite is the only such mechanism in the State of New Jersey. Should we be happy that it provides a chance for a person to act on this or her own behalf? We know it adds new meaning to the concept of the “digital divide”. 

We could have, should have done better. 

Shirley Jackson died rather young, in 1965, so I can’t ask if she foresaw either of these lotteries that have impacted me.


Women’s Protest March (Trenton, NJ) and protest memories – what can go wrong

Everyone else is weighing in, why not me? I’ve looked at very little of the social media since the march yesterday. My perspective may change…

I’ll start by saying that street protest isn’t my thing. It gives me cold anxiety. I’ve got baggage, in the form of ugly memories.

One memory is of a protest that “went wrong”. It may have left no historical traces… Around April 30, 1970, the United States bombed Cambodia and American campuses exploded. There was a protest march from my campus (I was a junior at Michigan State University) to the state capitol in Lansing. I joined the march, which seemed to have a good collection of marshals and other volunteers, and reasonable police cooperation. We’d been warned about tear gas, etc., and were a little jumpy. We walked along one lane of the main street between East Lansing and Lansing.

Presently, we were stopped, told to move to the sidewalk (?), told to sit, warned that we would hear sirens. Told “they’re on our side”. They came and went, without much fuss. We walked on. Then we saw the car that had been driven intentionally across the line of march. Two or three people had been taken to the hospital. The driver had been protected by marshals and/or police, and taken away for arrest. The car was smashed. It looked like it had been shot up. But there had been no gunfire. Marchers carrying umbrellas (it was rainy) had vented their anger on the windshield, which was punctured. We walked past, on the broken glass. I can’t remember anything about the rally at the capitol in Lansing. Could I hear a word anyone said? I can’t remember how I got home. Did they tell us there would be buses? Direct us onto city buses? Maybe I walked back. I’m also unable to remember with whom I marched. Perhaps I was alone.

Then came the shootings at Kent State in Ohio on May 4, 1970, when four students died and nine more were injured by the Ohio National Guard. (Wikipedia calls it a “massacre”.) It was a dark time. My roommate had nightmares. Our campus was in a state of civil disorder. No one could count on going to classes if they wanted to.

Michigan State (like many colleges) cancelled classes and encouraged students to go home. I spent the weekend on a farm near Kalamazoo, where it was so quiet we could hear the corn grow. We found that people away from the campus perceived more danger and disorder than we had actually experienced. But everyone worried and fretted.

And what did I do next? I escaped! Left the country! My application to the Exchange for Technical Experience was approved, and I was offered a summer job in the Netherlands! Off I went, for a summer of fun. What a relief!

This wasn’t what I meant to write. So… I don’t like demonstrations, and have barely participated since that time. Letter writers and citizen lobbyists are needed. And I ALWAYS, ALWAYS vote, in everything from primaries and school board races to national elections. Maybe tomorrow I’ll write about the Women’s March in Trenton.

PS – Added January 16, 2020: On August 12, 2017, I was in Portland, Oregon getting lunch in a taproom. My husband was reading Facebook on his phone, and found terrible news. We learned about the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA, not from a news source but from our dear niece HT, who had been among the protesters when a white supremacist had driven into the crowd, killing one person and injuring 19. HT wanted us to know that although she was bruised and shocked, she was safe. I burst into tears. I still grieve for the family of Heather Heyer, who died, and worry about those who were injured. I don’t know if I will ever protest again.

“The Vietnam War – Lessons Learned and Not Learned” a lecture by William Daniel Ehrhart at Stockton University, March 30, 2016.

I heard Ehrhart speak last week. He is a Vietnam veteran who became an author and poet, and participated extensively as part of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (WWAV). His description of the late sixties and early seventies matches what I remember – the impact of the military draft, the horrors of “pacification”, the trauma experienced by soldiers.

Ehrhart challenges the “rewriting” of history that took place since them, leading President Obama to declare that military service in Vietnam was “honorable” and the US was “right” to have invaded Southeast Asia.

One inaccuracy Ehrhart challenges is a historical timeline that says the Vietnam War “began” in the mid sixties, dismissing the French colonization and other outrages which sowed the seeds of calamity.

During the Q/A time, Ehrhart was challenged by a very recent veteran who disagreed with him about whether our current military exploits are truly different now than in Vietnam. Time did not allow them to continue their discussion.

I considered asking about “moral damage”, a framework now used to understand one aspect of the psychological damage brought home by combat veterans. I think Ehrhart would agree that he suffered that injury. His description of self-destructive behavior during his years of readjustment makes me grateful that he survived. That he has shared his experiences and reflections is a wonderful, if sobering, gift to us all.

“Trigger warning” – what does this mean?

A few months ago, I encountered a new expression, “trigger warning”. It came up in an academic setting (which is where I spend I good deal of my time) and pertained to a course or possibly to a lecture, discussion or textbook in a course. A “trigger warning” tells the student that a planned activity will include “sensitive” material, material that may be upsetting. It’s like the messages on web sites or TV programs – “contains graphic material, viewer discretion advised”.

If memory serves me correctly, I think the “trigger” in question was pregnancy loss, miscarriage. Yes, there could be, in any classroom, a woman who has suffered this misfortune and finds discussion of it to be very painful.

So what does this mean in the classroom? Is the student at liberty to skip the lecture or reading? Should the student warn the teacher? “Hey, I may fall apart if we discuss this topic.” Certainly communication between the student and teacher would be a good idea. To what extent must the teacher accommodate?

An obvious example of a trigger would be war scenarios. There are veterans in our classrooms, some undoubtedly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. War related topics are likely to cause them great anxiety. Worst case, a student might suffer a flash back or uncontrollable physical symptoms like hyperventilation. A teacher planning a course on, say, the American Civil War, needs to think ahead about this.

I encountered a trigger situation in college many years ago, going to see the play “Sargeant Musgrave’s Dance” with a man recently returned from combat in Vietnam. In the course of the drama, an actor pointed a Gatling gun at the audience. Afterwards, my friend offered the opinion that it had been incredibly stupid to do that, because someone might have flipped out, lost it or even pulled out a weapon.

But colleges offer many courses that can be distressing – courses on genocide, the holocaust, cancer, death and dying, slavery… Can a teacher determine in advance who is going to be “sensitive” to what? Should books be labeled for possible “trigger” content?

Education can’t be conducted in a way that makes NO ONE uncomfortable. Students need to discuss disquieting topics like race and violence. This proves to me that what we ask of classroom teachers is a great deal more complicated that appears at first glance.

What about triggers embedded in fiction? Stay tuned for my next post. And please post a comment to let me know what you think about “triggers” and “trigger warnings”!