Saturday, March 14, 2020

backing up the next man

There were three of us crammed into an single cubicle. Everyone was white. I was in my first paying job since leaving the army -- a job at a book publishing house in New York. The three of us were all trainees. The two other guys were ragging me on the sly. The Vietnam police action was almost over. The tide had shifted. Getting out of Vietnam was in the wind.

"If I were in the army, in combat" one said, "I know just what I'd do. I'd run away."

And that simple line was as much as I was prepared to swallow. "If you ran away," I said to all and sundry, "I would be happy to shoot you in the back."

I don't know if that were true or not, but I did know that in dire circumstances each man had to rely on the next -- I on you, you on me -- and running away was not an option. Color, sex, belief system ... none of it mattered: What mattered was that each backed up the next.

My words brought a silence to our cubicle.

I did not apologize.

And still don't.

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