I’ve frequently referenced my father’s military experiences and their impact on my upbringing, view but the reality is a bit more complicated than a Great Santini-esque “survivalist and sons” scenario.
When my old man got his draft notice, capsule he opted to enlist instead. This was partly so he could the use the resulting delay to take my mom to her senior prom, prescription but it was also a way to exert some control over an unavoidable circumstance — gaining a greater latitude of options in exchange for an additional year of service. Being an extremely bright individual, my dad was tracked for a military intelligence career.
He was told it was an incredible stroke of luck. There was only one very small combat arm of that branch, so the odds of having to serve on what passed for the frontlines in Southeast Asia were next to nil.
As things turned out, my dad’s psychological profile (manipulative, self-sufficient, racially/culturally tolerant) happened to be exactly what that very small combat arm was looking for its recruits…which is how the old man ended up with the 7th Psychological Operations Battalion.
His unit’s crest (now used by the 11th PSYOPS Bn) is a densely packed melange of symbolism. The septagon represents the 7th, the gold and red echo the South Vietnamese flag, the pen over the sword reflects that familiar aphorism, and the white/black/gray alludes to the three forms of propaganda. The motto, which was highly controversial with units my dad worked alongside, is a bit of a bold-faced mission statement.
PSYOPS units operated outside the normal chain of command and answered to the civilian-military intelligence combines at the higher levels of strategic planning. My dad mostly operated solo or as part of a two man team in charge of an ARVN interpreter and a group of Viet Cong defectors, which were sent to work alongside various combat units (mostly the Americal Division and the 196th Brigade) across I Corps. Their purpose was to cajole the enemy into deserting, employ “terror broadcasts” as force multipliers during offensives, and to indentify and neutralize infiltrators and insurgents at the local level.
“It was a hell of a lot of power for a twenty-one year old kid to handle” according to my dad, and that freedom effectively spoiled any chances for a career in the peacetime Army.
My dad had been a vicious and aggressive fighter since his childhood, but that’s not what translated over to his parental skills. It was never about knowing how to use a weapon or perform a non-lethal takedown. It was about manipulating people and circumstances to either achieve an end or create an environment favorable for doing so. From infancy to..well…the present day, my conversations with my father are Socratic dialogues overlaid with zen koans overlaid with multileveled approaches to tackling a given problem.
His box of tools isn’t particularly deep. My brother — who has a slightly more volatile relationship with the old man — is fond of point out how easy it is to immunize oneself once you figure out the angles. True enough, but part of the strategy is keeping the enemy so wound up that they can’t work out the patterns. (It also helps that most targets are either very stupid or very myopic or very prone to easily manipulated biases.)
There was time I enjoyed the power these inherited talents offered me, making poor fucks suffer as I yanked chains and preyed on inscurities for no reason other than some cheap thrills. There are still moments of incandescent rage when I feel the urge to pull out all the stops and make an opponent weep, but they’ve become fewer and further between.
I may have picked up my father’s pragmatic approach to idealism and rhetorical acumen, but lack his compulsively confrontational brinksmanship.
That’s just as well. One Gus Weiss is more than enough for this world.
(from Adventure Comics #322, July 1964; by Edmond Hamilton, John Forte, and Sheldon Moldoff)