Monday, March 31, 2008


(Diary of Meg Barnett, entry written at age 12)

On this date 40 years ago, I wrote in my diary:

"Today President Johnson announced that he was going to stop the bombing in Vietnam for peace talks, and that he was withdrawing from candidacy for President. We couldn't believe it."

These two lines are very carefully worded.

My parents were of opposing minds about Johnson. They had both been Goldwater supporters against Kennedy, but Kennedy's death had rattled my mother to her roots. When Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, Mama had switched camps to his side, enraging my father and his whole side of the family. They had long, loud arguments, my father not daring to be overt in his racism so instead he drew on the commonly-held knowledge in Texas about Lyndon's corruption and early stolen elections.

When it came to Vietnam, however, my mother was also a hawk, an adherent to the domino theory. Her father had been a Wobbly, but she was an anti-Communist. I remember being nine or ten and her asking me vehemently one day at breakfast, before I was entirely awake, "The decision you have to make, child of mine, is would you rather be Red or dead?" I could tell what she thought my answer should be. But I didn't want to be dead, not at that point. It tortured me for a long time.

As the war dragged on, my parents faced a new wrinkle: My older brother was about to graduate high school, and his grades were not good enough to guarantee him entry to college. Certainly there would be no scholarships for him, and we didn't have the money to pay his way. At the last minute, he saved enough one summer from a pharmacy tech job arranged for him by his future father-in-law to pay tuition at a small state school, and he worked 3/4 time to support himself once there. Still, in December of 1968 he faced the draft lottery, and missed getting called up by the skin of his teeth.

Even with that, my parents remained advocates for the war for another year, until my own pacifism emerged and I argued my mother into changing her mind. At the point of this diary entry, however, I had such beliefs still completely under wraps. Hence, my wording. My parents were horrified that Lyndon was backing down. I, on the other hand, was exultant. But "We couldn't believe it" covered it all.

Plus the fact that I thought it big enough news to put in my diary in the first place, a diary which my older brother the molestor had two years earlier jimmied the lock from so I knew I had no privacy for what I wrote.


letsdance said...

Your unique perspective and integrity open windows on the past and the present, Maggie. Thank you for being a survivor and for being willing to tell your story.

shadocat said...

I remember this day VERY well...I was watching the old B&W with my family, and after LBJ made his announcement, my dad looked at my mother and said, "Holy shit!"

For the longest time, I didn't know how they felt about the war; I think because they themselves hadn't decided yet. Later, they often talked about how we should just get out of Vietnam, that it was a huge mistake.

You know, I think I had a diary like that too; wish I'd saved it.

Maggie Jochild said...

I wish you still had that diary too, Shado. It's a fluke that I have mine. And you can see the gaps in it. There was so much I couldn't put down, even in code.

Thanks for reading my story, Jan. It means the world.

You know, LBJ was a sumbitch in a lot of ways, but he let go of the reins when he knew he wasn't doing the job well any more. Why are we not electing leaders like that any more?