When I Stopped Believing in War
I was born on the very day Germany marched on Poland, September 1, 1939. My life growing up in Grand Junction, Colorado was idyllic. My father was a large animal veterinarian and my mother was a homemaker, musician, and traveler. I loved playing with my older brother and sister, going on calls with my dad to care for animals, and on trips with my mom, especially the overnight train to Denver in a Pullman car.
My first awareness of war was in a movie theater with my sister sometime in 1944. The newsreel came on with graphic scenes of the war. My sister covered my eyes with her hand. I was quite put out with her censorship, but saw enough to have a concept about what war was really like. Over the years I believed what my government told me, that sometimes war was necessary and that we always were the good guys.
The change came in the mid 1960s. I was a busy mother and teacher. We had recently moved, with our two young sons, from Atlanta, Georgia to Eugene, Oregon where my husband, Michael, had accepted a post-doctoral position with the newly formed Institute of Molecular Biology.
Aaron Novick was the first Director. He had helped develop the atomic bomb at Los Alamos in the belief that the very existence of the bomb would convince Japan to surrender. He was shocked that the bomb was dropped first on Hiroshima and then on Nagasaki. Leaving Los Alamos and coming to Eugene was for him “a move from death to life”. He became an ardent anti-war activist, setting an example the professors at the Institute followed.
George Streisinger was one of those professors. George was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1927. As a Jew, he was fortunate to escape to New York City shortly before war broke out. He was strongly opposed to the military from a very early age and refused, for example, to participate in ROTC while at Cornell.
In addition to demonstrating against the Vietnam War and supporting the Eugene peace center, George volunteered to teach a series of evening classes on the Vietnam War at a local church. Mike and I, intrigued by the opportunity to hear a scientist talk about the war, hired a baby sitter and attended every class. The first evening George said “I admit to having strong feelings against the Vietnam War but I will always let you know when I am expressing my own views and when I am giving you the facts”. He used several reference books including a history of Vietnam going back to the occupation by the French. In a scholarly, gentle and patient way George led us through the history, the facts, and the terrible lies that our government told us about our involvement in the war.
Toward the end of the course, I realized I could no longer hold to the belief that our country could do no wrong. I felt betrayed, angry and frightened, because my world was breaking apart. As I learned one awful truth after another I realized I would have to join those who stood up against war. It was a painful, liberating and life changing experience.
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