Many years ago, during one of the anniversaries of Neil Armstrong’s trip to the moon, the newspaper I worked for invited readers to share their own memories of the historic occasion. We printed them all, even though they could not have been even remotely accurate.
That’s because many of the readers recalled incidents like this: “I was in kindergarten, and we were all taken to another classroom, where a TV was set up, and we watched it together. I still get chills, thinking about Armstrong taking that first historic step.” Couldn’t have happened, because the moon walk happened in July, when kindergarteners are almost entirely not attending school, and at close to 11 p.m. Indiana time (might have been 10 p.m., not sure what the time-zone situation was then), when they definitely wouldn’t have been. I was 11 going on 12, and I missed the first steps because I couldn’t stay awake. (I call my tale “The Lark’s Lament.”)
It was an early lesson in the fallibility of memory. So even though I consider Ben Carson not even remotely presidential timber, OK, I’ll give him a pass on somehow believing that Gen. William Westmoreland or someone close to his rank offered him a full ride to the U.S. Military Academy, as recounted in one of his books:
“That position allowed me the chance to meet four-star general William Westmoreland, who had commanded all American forces in Vietnam before being promoted to Army Chief of Staff at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.,” he wrote. “I also represented the Junior ROTC at a dinner for Congressional Medal of Honor winners, marched at the front of Detroit’s Memorial Day parade as head of an ROTC contingent, and was offered a full scholarship to West Point.”
As has been pointed out since Politico broke this story on Friday, there are some couldn’t-have-happened problems with this story. Westmoreland’s schedule says he was playing golf in suburban D.C. that day, although he did come to Detroit a few months earlier, and Carson could have been at that event. But the events of 1969 can seem distant indeed. He may well have heard “you’re a promising young man, Ben. Why, you’d probably be a shoo-in at the Point, and you know, everyone who attends gets a scholarship.” And heard it as, “We’re giving you a scholarship to West Point because you’re so special,” which is how it’s presented in the book. I don’t care what anyone says, in our culture “you’re/I’m getting a scholarship” is seen as a reward for achievement or potential, and saying so is drawing attention to it. Just getting into West Point is an accomplishment on a par with cracking an Ivy or other top school, and saying you’ve been admitted, or to any service academy, is enough; no one gets “a scholarship,” in this sense because everyone gets a scholarship.
Maybe you didn’t know that; that’s OK. Maybe he felt the need to say so because some people might not understand this. Hmm, OK, but say so — it only takes a phrase: “Like all West Pointers, I’d be attending on a full scholarship.” It’s even somewhat possible that Carson himself doesn’t understand how West Point works, but if that’s the case, what the hell is he doing running for president? That’s a basic-knowledge fact that someone who aspires to be commander in chief ought to know.
There’s this phrase you might have heard about, IOKIYAR — it’s OK if you’re a Republican. Imagine if a Democrat had said something like this, and imagine whether the defense would be as staunch. My God, John Kerry was mocked by some of these people for merely claiming service in Vietnam. Carson is being treated as a hero for not setting foot in the place.
So. How was your weekend? Mine was fine. Fall has settled into that late-season period where 95 percent of the leaves are down and nearly all the outside chores are done, and all there is to do now is untangle the Christmas lights and maybe squeeze a book or two in before the holiday whirl starts. We had our gutters cleaned by the guys who come around this time of year offering to do so. I didn’t know Alan had hired them until I was standing naked in the bathroom and saw one climb on a ladder past my window. Hey, guys! I have no idea whether he saw me or not.
Move on, nothing to see here, says Ben Carson. You understand, right?
So let’s get this week going, then.