14. January 2006 · Comments Off on Another Brush With History · Categories: General, History, Israel & Palestine, Memoir, Military, World

I had long put it out of my mind, and was only reminded when I ran across this picture at Chicago Boyz… that I actually went to see one of these men speak. For some reason (probably because he had recently resigned from the government) he came to speak at Cal. State Northridge, sometime in the spring of 1975 or 1976, under the sponsership of (I think) the campus chapter of Hillel.

I an fairly sure it was spring, because it was raining cats and dogs, and I was still inexperienced enough a driver to be mildly terrified of the ordeal of driving across the Valley in a downpour, what with the lights reflecting off the water in the road making it hard to see where the lanes were. On the whole the drive was a titch more unsettling than getting into the campus theater was. Each of us lined up to go into the theater— and there was a fair turnout— was patted down, briskly and effeciently, and all the women’s handbags were opened for inspection. Now that was unsettling. It hadn’t been unheard of, that kind of precaution, after all, it was only a half-dozen years after Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, a dozen since Jack Ruby walked into a police station in Dallas and killed another Kennedy assassin… but still.

Even on a wet and unpleasant evening, there were protestors, or course…. practically the only time I had ever seen such on campus with my own eyes… chanting dispiritedly “Palestina! Palestina!” in the downpour that the weather gods save for those who are convinced the sun always shines in Southern California. (There was hardly any campus culture of protest after about 1972, and anyway, Northridge was a commuter school— most students going there had jobs and real lives, and just wanted the damned education, thank you very much.)

I think most of the other people in the audience were, like me, curious and interested… and polite. The person we had come to hear speak was famous, of course, mostly for winning wars— something that our own generals had not lately had much experience with. He had been on the cover of Time, and all. There was an air in the audience of pleasant anticipation, not excitement as if for a rock concert, but more like that in a classroom, when a really rivetingly good lecturer is about to begin. And there were good lecturers at Cal State, and there was a history prof at Glendale JC who was so fabulous that people sat out in the corridor to audition his classes. This man was truely a historic person, well worth driving across the Valley in driving rain to see and listen to.

For a hero, though, he was pretty short, and rather modestly ordinary looking, for all the world like a small local business owner at a Rotary or Lions meeting, wearing a plain tan-colored suit and a wholly lamentable tie. Perhaps I should have looked back in the diary I kept at the time before writing this because I would have written about what he said, because I can’t really remember any of it. But I am good with voices and accents, and they stick in my mind more tenaciously, and I thought it was curious how he spoke English well, but with sometimes a very pronounced accent, alternating jarringly with some words and phrases in perfectly fluent British English— as if he had once spoken English often and comfortably, but not lately, and so become rusted linguistically.

Exept for the eye-patch, one would have hardly noticed Moshe Dayan at all, in that campus theater; he had, I think now with my own experience in the military, perfected the art of putting aside the command presence that a military leader must have in order to lead… but that only the very finest of them can put aside when the occasion demands, and appear to be only ordinary.

(I saw Ray Bradbury lecture once, in the same theater, and remember that he told the story of being arrested for walking in LA, but I think he’s been telling that one for years.)

Comments closed.