Sunday, February 18, 2007


The other day I had reason to reflect on something that happened many years ago. It was late July 1969 and I was commanding a unit that was located near a place in Vietnam named Nui Ba Den, the “Black Virgin Mountain.”

A re-supply helicopter landed at first light and delivered a hot meal and other supplies but most importantly, mail. With the mail were our copies of the Pacific edition of the Stars and Stripes, the military’s newspaper. As the papers were distributed, I was walking around talking to soldiers about the front-page story with the huge headline, “MAN ON MOON.”

One of my privates when asked his reaction to this historic event said, “Heck sir, it’s just another government lie!” I was taken aback and stunned. “You think they can pull off something that big and involving that many people without a leak,” I probed. Well, to make a long conversation short, he did in fact believe it was possible and it turned out that he was not the only 19 or 20 year old cynic that I had.

In 37-year hindsight, it’s not surprising that my guys had reasons aplenty to not trust “the government” or anyone else they tended to label as “the man.” Their low levels of trust in “the system” and its representatives began long before they were drafted (and my non-believers were almost all draftees); they evaluated things based on their experiences.

So I wonder what in people’s experiences around here would cause them to not trust the people we elect to do our business. Is what we sometimes observe just the reflection of a good old fashion healthy dose of skepticism about all things political that Americans have historically had? We see this phenomenon directed at all levels of government, but I would think at the level that is closest to us, it would be somewhat reduced.

A quick Internet search reveals that my guys were not alone in believing that the moon headline was reporting a hoax. Do we have a similar situation here in that we don’t believe what our local leaders tell us? Someone told me the other day that he didn’t believe what any politician said, and then he repeated the old joke: How can you tell if a politician is lying? Their lips are moving!

I asked him was he joking or did he really believe that, and he assured me that he was not joking. He went on to explain to me that I was too trusting of what those in authority said. The problem as he saw it was far too many people were like me and this allowed officials to receive a pass and never get asked the right or really hard questions. Then, almost as an afterthought, he added that the members of the local “fourth estate” were worse than the average gullible citizen is; they would do nothing to disturb the status quo. They, in his opinion, were toothless watchdogs!

Wow! I was floored! I then had to know just what cliffs we mindless lemmings were about to go off. What were we being “fed” by those in authority? My “friend” ticked off his list: taxes, development in northern Chapel Hill, development in northern Carrboro, development in Orange County, tuition, school redistricting, trash dumps and transfer stations, Carolina North, Horace Williams Airport, Lot 5, and downtown Chapel Hill development.

So what about you? Do you distrust the leaders of our various local institutions? Do you sense that there is some sort of conspiracy afoot? Do you think that we are just told what we want to hear? Do you feel that our media is a “toothless watchdog” of the public interest?

I guess that I’m still not convinced that the state of things is as dire as my “friend” believes. Members of our community participate in public hearings, serve on advisory boards and commissions, and fill the local media and blogs with their take on things. I sense that there is very little that is done without others knowing about it but, most importantly, the leaders of our institutions have done nothing to cause me to not trust them.

Like my soldiers in that July heat those many years ago who were willing to believe that people were capable of and motivated to orchestrate the greatest hoax in history, I refuse to believe that anyone is that good. I also refuse to believe that we are “being played.” Whom do you believe?

PS: Trusting doesn't mean that you don't verify!

1 comment:

James Barrett said...

I don't think the issue I have (and maybe your friend's if he thought more deeply about it) is one of trust. My problem is that I don't agree with some (many? most?) of the decisions these guys make. I don't trust their judgement, but that's a different issue than trusting what they say.

Thanks Fred, as usual