The Skies Belong to Us

I’m reading a recent book called The Skies Belong to Us. I really like it so far, but reading it is also really infuriating, because you see the seething dysfunction of American society at this time.

Roger Holder’s father serves in the Navy. He moves his family to Oregon I believe, but his family is subjected first to housing discrimination, then to outright assault and intimidation, and then his kid is put in the hospital because other white kids beat him. This is completely outrageous. The man is SERVING THIS COUNTRY ON AN AIRCRAFT CARRIER, but he can’t live in peace at his port of call.

His son even tries to make good despite living in such a thankless climate. Roger Holder serves in the army, where he kills for this country. His best friend dies while in Vietnam, he nearly dies after his vehicle runs over a land mine. His psychology is slowly warped by the callousness and killing that he sees, and then — and this part I found especially eye-opening and infuriating — he is thrown in jail because he is caught smoking a joint in the streets of Vietnam. I found this absurd on so many levels.

First, it’s a big “who cares.” I’ve always been against the drug war. It makes no sense.

But there’s a wider issue, which is that this man is trying to keep his sanity in the face of constant violence. He uses drug to escape, and he’s punished for that. Not ONLY THAT, he’s sent to a military prison where, surprise surprise, only black people are being held (well wait, 10% of the inmates are white).

So not only has he shipped himself halfway across the world for a country that won’t treat him decently. But in doing his job, he’s put in jail with selective, racist, chicken-shit enforcement in Vietnam.

But IT GETS BETTER. You may wonder, “why did the military suddenly get so interested in prosecuting marijuana use in 1969?” (it was no big deal for a long time). The reason is that the My Lai massacre happened, and some politicians blamed the war crimes on drug use. No, this was not the cause of a violent war spun out of control, systematically causing dementia in its perpetrators, this was a bunch of druggies who lost control and shot up a village while high. This is laughable, there was no evidence that drugs were at work in the My Lai massacre (and indeed the leader of the unit who committed the massacre, William Calley, was convicted of war crimes). Marijuana acts as a sedative and soldiers did drugs to escape the brutality of some of the things they were asked to do.

But war crimes are not politically convenient. So it was easier to try to cover up the massacre and then declare that it was just a renegade incident of reefer madness. Roger Holder gets caught in the dragnet.

So here’s Roger. His dad is prevented from decently raising a family by racism. His son decides to serve the country anyway, nearly dies himself, watches his best friend die, and kills scores of Vietnamese. He uses drugs to keep up with his responsibilities as a helicopter gunner, but when the atrocities of Vietnam in My Lai come out, as perpetrated by an American commander, it’s decided that it would be easier to blame drugs, and then, in the made up drug war, arrest black soldiers. Outrageous. Unconscionable.

*Spoiler Alert*

No wonder Roger became a skyjacker.


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