It seemed to me as if I were standing there naked and knew that I was thousands of miles away from home. It was also difficult to escape the fact that I was a Caucasian. It was still unknown to the marchers my nationality, unless one of them happened to have been a student of mine or a faculty member in my department. But standing there, on the campus of the University of the Philippines, I found it very hard to remain a bystander.
And really, looking at that war in the fall of 1969, it would’ve been difficult for me to be for it. It was still unknown to me that I would have a high school buddy die in it, a death that would seem unnecessary or at least, in light of our loss of the war, hard to reconcile. It later would appear to me to be a time that touched my heart more than any other. I would later say things about that war and the men who came back from it that I truly regretted, and when answers were never that simple.
They were demonstrating, and had I been at home, I might’ve joined them with undeniable passion and the lack of caution. Now I see I could’ve easily been that friend who died but my draft board didn’t catch up with me in time. And their effort didn’t stop with them trying to send me for my physical to a place I couldn’t have possibly gone. Their mistake saved me. Deferments helped by delaying it enough to allow my escape. Okay, it spoke of unfairness. It extended to many men my age who, for whatever reasons, didn’t go. Unlike World War II, there wasn’t a clear reason for going. The stakes weren’t the same; Vietnam wasn’t Europe; genocide in Cambodia hadn’t happened yet. From the Philippine perspective, or at least on that campus then, Americans were the aggressors. Randy Ford, the quiet American, familiar in light of Philippine history and the nearby military bases they wanted closed, so helpless had their anger turned on him, teaching there then, couldn’t have escaped had he wanted to. But why would they turn on him?