Monday, February 23, 2015

The Men My Father Hated

My father didn't really hate a lot of people, although he joked a lot about his "cancer list" -- this was a list of a dozen or so people he was going to rub out if he ever got inoperable cancer and had only six months to live. The people populating this list varied from year to year, depending on who had pissed him off the most in the last year. But it was always just a (sort of) good-natured gibe -- "He's on the list!" or "You're off the list!"

In any case, he didn't get cancer, he got some god-awful wasting kidney disease and was not in good enough shape to even lift a gun, let alone shoot someone with it. Ultimately that list never came to its terrible potentiality.

But there were three men who were on his Permanent Hate List and in the family we learned never to even mention their names in front of him unless we were willing to listen to a ranting-and-raving hour-long (but entertaining, I'll grant) diatribe about how fucked up it was that they were still taking up space on this planet and still breathing his air.

One of course was Herbert Hoover. My father came of age in the Great Depression and, along with everyone else cast into unemployment and poverty, my whole family put the blame squarely on Herbert Hoover, who was president when the Stock Market crashed and the US economy, followed by the world economy, went into the shitter. His mother, my grandmother, widowed at an early age with a litter of children, was forced to "crawl" (her word) before a church-affiliated relief agency just to get marginally-sufficient food for her family.

People have debated ever since the Great Depression whether all the blame could or should be assigned to Hoover, but that didn't matter to the families who were suffering in poverty and hunger. Hoover was president and he refused to do anything to help The People. End of story.

The second man was a guy named Ezra Taft Benson. That name might sound a bit familiar to you since he was, at the end of his life and his career, enthroned as the Prophet, Seer and Revelator of the Mormon Church, i.e., President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka "The One True Church"). But that is not what earned him my father's enmity.

No, in 1955 Benson was still Secretary of Agriculture in the Eisenhower Administration, and pulled a "free-market" removal of all the federal price supports for milk. The small dairy farmers who depended on agricultural subsidies to eke out an existence had to sell their cows for pennies on the dollar to big factory farms and were forced off their land and into a nomadic latter-day neo-Grapes-of-Wrath-like flight to the west. Many of them made the time-honored trek to California. We ended up in the Pacific Northwest, where my mother's people all lived. My parents lived in Oregon and Washington for the rest of their lives, but he always missed Oklahoma.

But the greatest amount of my father's wrath was reserved for General Douglas MacArthur. He could hardly stand to see the old general appear on television to reap the praise of, in my father's view, "the stupid people who idolized the bastard" even after his reckless arrogance had gotten him fired from his command in the Korean War.

So it was MacArthur's arrogant attitude and his imperious behavior, sure, but it was way more personal than that. My father's cousin had joined the Army in 1938 and was stationed in The Philippines when the Japanese invaded. Douglas MacArthur and his wife were evacuated by submarine to Australia, leaving behind all of the soldiers under his command to go on the Bataan Death March and then suffer years of cruel captivity at the hands of the Japanese. But what really cinched it for my father was the story that Mrs. MacArthur insisted that her furniture also be rescued with them, and that furniture took up valuable space on the submarine, space that should have gone to other soldiers who could have been evacuated as well. My father's cousin survived the Bataan Death March, but died in a prison camp later in 1942.

I don't even know that the furniture story is true, but in many ways that doesn't matter. The old man hated MacArthur with a burning passion, and if he had ever gotten the opportunity to ... well, we'll never know. It's just a good thing MacArthur never showed up at any events in Portland or Seattle during his retirement years.


BadTux said...

MacArthur actually fled the Philippines in a PT boat. Apparently a submarine was made available to him but he decided the submarine was better used shooting dud torpedoes at Japanese shipping (because our torpedoes fucking *sucked* during the early days of the war, they were lowest-bidder pieces of shit) and he took the little plywood buzz-boats instead.

That said, I've always thought MacArthur was overrated. For example, his defense of the Philippines was laggardly and inept, and his refusal to believe that the Chinese would enter the Korean War almost led to the destruction of the entire expeditionary force deployed to Korea. Only extreme heroism on the part of the soldiers involved as well of the air forces and Navy saved enough of the Army to make it back down to the border with South Korea and then turn back and stop the Chinese.

Farnsworth68 said...

Thanks for the clarification, BT.