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Essays on Civic Engagement

This Is Your Democracy


William Murphy Weymouth

My mother and father enthusiastically voted in every election, understanding that politics can be defined as “who gets what, when, where and how,” distinguished from war/crime or terrorism as “the peaceful resolution of conflict,” the antithesis of using violence to effect political means.

Mom and Dad were World War II veterans who became federal employees – my father a mailman and my mother a defense department clerk and, thus, prohibited by the federal Hatch Act from participating in partisan political activity.  But they could vote.  My father had strong feelings for national candidates and actively supported state and local candidates. However, he was by nature totally against bumper stickers, lawn signs, and flags (including the US flag).  He believed in believing and in action but not the trappings of belonging, the showcasing.

Both of my parents would be dismayed at the ever-present finger-in-your-eye displays of bumper stickers (not just for candidates, but for “issues” real and imagined – civil and vulgar); the lawn signs about various topics that “matter”; mission accomplished; setting boundaries; planting a signal; and flags flying from castles, ranging from the Stars and Stripes to the yellow Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” of the Continental Navy, to the yellow banner with parallel red lines of Vietnam (how many did I see on the Capitol, and how many know that it represents a failed war initiated in support of a despotic government?), to variant strains of the American flag with blue and/or red stripes.

Instead, my parents registered, informed themselves, and voted.

On March 12, 1968, in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, anti-war Senator Eugene McCarthy, supported by student volunteer canvassers and staff, came within 230 votes of defeating incumbent President Lyndon Johnson, the architect of the Vietnam War. Nineteen days later, on March 31, 1968, Johnson decided not to run for re-election, setting the stage for the (too long delayed) end of the war, an obvious result of what had been called the Children’s Crusade.

My father had strong feelings for national candidates and actively supported state and local candidates.

It takes a while to turn a war machine around and in April 1972, I boarded a plane for Vietnam. A friend photographed me with a Boston Globe under my arm. He joked that I went off to war carrying a folded newspaper while most men went to war with an M-16.

The vote in New Hampshire started the long process which ended the war in 1973. I left Vietnam thirty-three days before the final American soldier left.  The first American casualty of the war was an airman from Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1956. There were no U.S. casualties after I left, thereby signifying that there was a young man from Weymouth present in Vietnam when the first and last American was killed in the war.

Years later, John Prine’s song “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore” became a favorite of mine:

But your flag decal won’t get you

Into Heaven any more

They’re already overcrowded

From your dirty little war

Now Jesus don’t like killin’

No matter what the reason’s for

And your flag decal won’t get you

Into Heaven any more

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