Water Man Spouts

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

On Sophocles' "Ajax"

Fair Salamis, the billows’ roar,
Wander around thee yet,
And sailors gaze upon thy shore
Firm in the Ocean set.
Thy son is in a foreign clime
Where Ida feeds her countless flocks,
Far from thy dear, remembered rocks,
Worn by the waste of time–
Comfortless, nameless, hopeless save
In the dark prospect of the yawning grave....
Woe to the mother in her close of day,
Woe to her desolate heart and temples gray,
When she shall hear
Her loved one’s story whispered in her ear!
"Woe, woe!’ will be the cry–
No quiet murmur like the tremulous wail
Of the lone bird, the querulous nightingale–
--Sophocles’ "Ajax"

This year, when a couple of young men who were training to box in the Golden Gloves asked me a question about the proper way to respond to a purposeful foul, it got me thinking back to when I used to fight. I told them that I would wait to see if the referee addressed any purposeful foul. I considered the referee handling it the best outcome. If the referee failed to address it, I did.

As an old man, I have mixed feelings about how people respond to the low blows and other dirty tactics that the republicans use in the political arena. I felt, for example, that John Kerry should have responded more forcefully to the Rovian swift-boat tactics in 2004. I have a lot of respect for Senator Kerry as a statesman – but I had hoped to see a little more of John Kerry as a young warrior.

Likewise, I can understand the contempt that people feel for Larry Craig for his behavior in both the House and Senate. He seems to be a bitter, judgmental fellow. I also think he should be held responsible for attempting to use his senate ID in order to "pull rank" with a police officer.
Yet it strikes me as wrong that Americans seem to be more focused on Larry Craig’s behavior, than on Alberto Gonzales. I know that others feel the same way. In fact, on a good thread earlier today, I took part in a discussion about this. I mentioned the incident involving Walter Jenkins, and thought it might be of interest to others.

In 1964, the RNC wanted to use dirty tactics against the democrats, and to aim them at LBJ in particular. They had recognized the power of television, from the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960, and wanted to exploit the power of this media. The RNC planned to run a ½ hour "documentary" titled "Choice." It had film clips of things such as urban riots, a lady wearing a topless bathing suit, and a Lincoln Continental racing down a dirt road, with beer cans being thrown from the windows. (The Spot: The Rise of Politican Advertising on Television; Diamond & Bates; Cambridge; 1984; pages 144-45)

Barry Goldwater ordered the RNC to not show the film. He said he did not want to resort to appeals to racism to win an election. Goldwater would also hold to his principles in October, when Walter Jenkins was arrested on charges not entirely different that what Larry Craig was accused of.

Kenny O’Donnell found out that the RNC had made repeated calls to the police, requesting that they share the report of Jenkins’ arrest with the media. The RNC had found out that Jenkins was charged with a similar offense in 1959; O’Donnell discovered that the RNC had been calling journalists to spread this information.

When reporters attempted to ask questions about the incident, Barry Goldwater refused to make any comment. (Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and his times 1961-1973; Robert Dallek; Oxford; 1998; chapter 3)

The pressure on Walter Jenkins was intense. He became suicidal, and his doctors had him hospitalized. Homosexuality and a psychiatric hospitalization, and the arrest, ended Jenkins association with the administration. While he was not one of the people associated with LBJ who I admired, I remember my father saying the incident destroyed a good man, and did more damage to Johnson’s administration than anyone knew.

I also found myself thinking of James Forrestal, and the description in James Carroll’s "House of War;" many believed that Forrestal’s psychosis was rooted "in his failed Catholicism. Indeed, he was reported to have confessed near the end that he was being punished for being ‘a bad Catholic’." (page 151)

In 2004, the Department of the Navy revealed that Forrestal’s suicide note was the verse of Sophocles’ tragic "Ajax," quoted above.


At August 30, 2007 at 7:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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