These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
–Thomas Paine, 1776
An odd way to start a food blog, perhaps. But then, perhaps not.
44 years ago, yesterday, I was standing on the flight deck of the USS Ranger CVA-61, grilling steaks in the middle of the Gulf of Tonkin. I was a cookin’ fool even back then.
The Viet Nam Peace Accords had been signed and we were – technically – no longer at war. There were 5000 really happy guys on that ship – no more war meant being able to go home. No more fighting. No more killing.
If you’ve never been in a war zone it’s kinda hard to understand the stress and the strife. I was lucky. I didn’t have to go traipsing through the jungle with a gun. But supporting the war effort is still no picnic. I worked 12 hours on, 12 hours off, seven days a week. It was disgustingly hot – both in the bakeshop where I was assigned – and in our berthing area where we slept stacked three high.
We had it easy. We weren’t being bombed. Our homes weren’t being destroyed. Our babies weren’t being killed.
It would be a couple more years before the fall of Saigon and our evacuation of Vietnamese refugees.
We flew thousands of people from rooftops to Navy ships in the Tonkin Gulf. Navy ships picked up thousands more in the waters off the coast. They came to the United States under The Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act signed by President Gerald Ford. Under this act, approximately 130,000 refugees from South Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia were allowed to enter the United States under a special status, and the act allotted for special relocation aid and financial assistance.
130,000 refugees. 1975. And in 2017, people are screaming about how we can’t handle 10,000 refugees from Syria. We gave 130,000 people relocation aid and financial assistance, but somehow, our vast country can’t handle 10,000 people from the most war-ravaged place on the planet. The hypocrisy is mind boggling.
A side note from that grilling day on the Ranger… I got 2nd degree sunburn over every exposed part of my body and was hospitalized overnight and then limited duty until we pulled into Hong Kong for Chinese New Year.
One thing that will always stick with me is how well I was treated in every country I was in. There was no animosity from anyone being a white kid in a brown land. People were friendly, the languages were music, the food was exotic and fascinating. I was the outsider who was always made to feel at home. I watched, I listened, I learned.
And what I learned most is that we are the same. We all have the same basic needs. We need to breathe, we need to eat, we need to laugh, we need to love.
This is why I stand in defiance of the Trump administration and their banning of refugees and citizens of select Muslim countries – while simultaneously NOT blocking people from countries where he has financial interests.
I did not go to war 45 years ago to watch this country turn her back on people in need. I did not go to war to see Mexico scapegoated. I did not go to war to see walls built where we should be tearing them down.
It’s hard to leave the house to go out and protest when there’s a 91 year old living with you. It’s frustrating, because the 16 year old who got tear-gassed at SF State in 1968, who burned his draft card (and paid for that move in boot camp) wants to be in the middle of the fray.
Instead, I cook. I bake. I send money to the ACLU and am calling my representatives daily. Yes, daily. I don’t always get through and often the voicemail boxes are full – but I’m calling them. Every day.
And thinking of all of those fabulous meals I ate overseas. Because the more you expand your culinary horizons, the more you expand your mind. The more you understand that we really are the same. We take the same foods and put them together differently – and it’s all good.
Tonight was a pot roast of indeterminable origin.
Fuck you, Trump.