Louis Lomax discusses the book "Thailand: The War That Is, The War That Will Be"
BROADCAST: 1967 | DURATION: 00:45:07
Discussing Thailand and interviewing journalist Louis Lomax. Includes passage from book.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel America, in its most incredible adventure in Vietnam, considers certain allies, as Thailand, Laos, South Korea, Australia. Louis Lomax, who is a very perceptive American newspaper man, conducts his own TV program on the coast, and was a Chicago newspaper man for many years -- written some very excellent provocative books -- recently visited one of our allies, Thailand, and there have been rumors -- and the book, by the way, is called "Thailand," subtitle is, "The War That Is, The War That Will Be" and the sub-subtitle, "A Firsthand Account of Another Vietnam in the Making". And indeed this book, Louis, is is one of, a bill of particulars, if ever there was one.
Louis Lomax Well, thank you very much for the compliment. I am. It's a labor of deep concern on my part. First of all, I happen to have grave reservations about our involvement in Southeast Asia, on the whole and Vietnam in particular. And I was shocked when I got into Thailand and found out that, indeed, this country has already been committed to another Vietnam. It is not a Vietnam that's going to be; it is Vietnam that is already in existence. There are a couple of facts the American people yet don't know. The first is that the communist insurgents -- and they are not outside invaders -- let's clear the air. They are Thais who are disgusted with their government, for reasons we will discuss a little bit later, and they have taken to the hills and they are carrying out a revolution against their government. And the second point that the American people don't know, is that three years ago Dean Rusk signed a secret document with the prime minister of Thailand which commits us to defend the current government in Thailand, regardless of the issues involved.
Studs Terkel Of course, you have a number of points you raise even now that are overwhelming. In the book you speak of the nature of the Thai government, Thai once Siam. And if ever there were a totalitarian set up, that is it.
Louis Lomax You see, this is precisely th- this is precisely the point. Let's do something of an anatomy of the current Thai government. Of course they have a king, who is pretty much of a figurehead, although he is a solidifying national symbol. But the country is actually run by a three-man military junta. Thailand does not have a constitution. No one has voted in Thailand in almost 15 years.
Louis Lomax He is the big boy. And no one has voted in about 15 years. It is a felony punishable by death for more than 5 people to get together in Thailand and even discuss politics. Now, we have committed ourselves to defend that government against dissatisfied Thais. In return, of course, we have gotten these major air bases, from which we bomb North Vietnam, which in the case of Nakhon Phanom, which is in the northeast part of Thailand, is 125 miles away. And of course its obvious that we plan to make Thailand a sort of land ca- landlocked aircraft carrier, from which we are going to bomb China. Now what I think has occurred in Thailand, and here's a -- it's sort of a primer. You know, we look at Vietnam now and its so complex. We try to un-peel the the onion. Now, we can see how we got into the mess in Vietnam because here we are in another one and we can see it in the making. Now the real issue is this: All over the world, Studs, people are involved in social revolution. People are coming out from under colonialism, in the case of United States, from under segregation. People are coming out from under the kind of oligarchy governments that characterize Latin America. Now these people, and I happen to think they have just grievances against their governments, are rising up, taking certain steps. Every time this occurs, the United States manages to get on the side of the oppressive government.
Louis Lomax I think Dean Rusk has an enclave on which he grows these kinds of people, you see. What what really got us into this thing -- let's look at it. It it's what I sometimes refer to as the theology of Americanism. It's the outgrowth of the John Foster Dulles era, when we really felt that -- and our foreign policy was built upon this -- that we were mandated by God to go forth and chase the devil, which of course is international Communism, which I submit doesn't exist. But what we did--
Louis Lomax Of course, it's fragmented. There's no such thing as monolithic international Communism. We, you see but now what we did, and this was our fatal and moral flaw, we equated evil with Communism and good with non-Communism. Consequently, anybody who was not a Communist was ipso facto good. Consequently, we wind up supporting for a long time Batista. We wind up supporting Trujillo. We wind up supporting the Verwoerd and now the Vorster government in South Africa. We wind up supporting the oppressive government in Thailand. So long as--
Studs Terkel You know there's a remarkable sequence here, throughout the book. We'll ask Louis Lomax in a moment about the remarkable people he's met, too. About this woman Rassamee who was out in the hills--
Louis Lomax Yes.
Studs Terkel About the women of Thailand, that to me is really interesting, but this is this this comment you just made. There's an incredible piece of dialogue you had. First of all, as the ambassador, our American ambassador Martin, who apparently has unprecedented power.
Louis Lomax Right.
Louis Lomax Yeah.
Louis Lomax It's an actual quote. What had happened was, the day before I interviewed Martin himself, I was at dinner in the home of the aide and we were talking in a more bare-knuckle fashion than Graham Martin, of course, dares talk, although Graham Martin winds up saying the same thing. And the aide said to me, in essence--
Louis Lomax Yup. "I opened the discussion with Martin's aide" - this is the night before - "by asking how he could justify our presence in Thailand if we would not accept the Chinese presence in Cuba. Graham Martin's aide countered by saying that American international, political and moral ethics are one thing; that stopping Communism and communist aggression is quite another. Therefore, he continued, we must abandon our own principles and do whatever is necessary to stop Communism."
Louis Lomax Go.
Studs Terkel "You liberals want a democratic world but you're not willing to do the kind of things necessary to achieve that world. This is a dog-kill-dog world. We must kill these dogs before they kill us."
Studs Terkel "It all boils down to the fact that we are right and they are wrong. What we want for the world is good. What the Communists want for the world is bad. And we have the right to have our missiles pointed at Russia because they are the bad guys. They don't have the right to have their missiles pointed to us because we are the good guys. Same goes for China. We have the right to be in Thailand because we are good. China doesn't have the right to be in Cuba because they are bad. Now we offer the best hope for Southeast Asia. That's why we're here. That is the way things are; that's the way things are gonna be regardless of what we must do to make it that way."
Louis Lomax Yeah.
Studs Terkel Well now, of course, is the -- what does what does this do to us? And by the way, oh you were saying that Thailand is next. Assume for example, and there's no reason to assume it at this moment, there will be an end to the incredible adventure of ours -- that not even an official war -- but incredible adventure of ours in Vietnam. Your implication is that Thailand is next. There are the helicopters there, of course, the the--
Studs Terkel Mhm.
Louis Lomax And we were flying Thai troops into the jungles to fight the Communists. We're doing the identical thing in Thailand. I mean, we- were flying Vietnamese troops there. We're doing that identical thing in Thailand now. And of course it's just a matter of time that we are going to be sucked into it because the Thai revolutionaries have already put a bounty, as you know from the book, on the heads of American soldiers. Now you've got to remember that there are upwards now of 100,000 American soldiers.
Louis Lomax Yeah, the Green Beret are there, ex-FBI men are there, the CIA is there. But the thing that really troubles me about it is I talked to the Thai people, and there is no denying that they are deeply displeased with their own government. That government could not remain in power against the will of its own people except for the American military presence.
Louis Lomax Precisely.
Studs Terkel So here we come to -- now who are "they?" Now we come, now -- by the way, incidentally, in in this remarkable book that is very vividly written by Louis Lomax, an excellent journalist, conversations with all variety of Thai people, even those who are working for the government, intellectuals, a young cop. A young cop in one of the towns is saying, "What are you guys doing here? You're going big red, the red. Big red"--
Louis Lomax They are an interesting bunch. The leaders are four, five people. The most dramatic one, of course, is a very beautiful -- she is about 24 years old now -- Thai young woman. A graduate, university--
Studs Terkel Rassamee
Louis Lomax Rassamee. Her father was one of the real leaders of the Thai freedom movement, and he was killed several years ago. And on the day he was killed she -- he was assassinated by the government -- she fled to Russia and finally made her way back through Laos by night and across the Mekong River, and is now ensconced in the hills. Now the people who are up in the hills fighting are of are of two breeds. One, there are the professionals like Rassamee and Yod Phathisawata. They are those who have been away and have been trained. The troops who are supporting them are local Thais; Thais who have been recruited from their villages, Thais who are deeply dissatisfied with their government, Thais who are determined to overthrow their government. Many of them are Thais who deeply resent the American presence in Thailand. You see, you've got to remember that Thailand is a country that has undergone a series of palace coups and it's only the American military presence, as I said about 4 or 5 minutes ago, which keeps the current government in power.
Louis Lomax Pretty much. You see, her father was one of the intellectuals turned out by Thammasat University. And this has a very interesting history. You have to go back to the late 20s, when there were a group of very brilliant Thais studying in Paris. And for the first time, at the University of Paris and at the Sorbonne, they saw politically free people. And they put together something known now as the Paris Group, and they came back with the determination of overthrowing the government and giving the Thai people a constitution, which they proceeded to do. Now one of the men involved was a man whose name phonetically in English comes out to be Pibul and he, for a while, was even premier of Thailand. He was overthrown and there were a series of coups. He was in and he was out. And finally he was chased out of the country. And it is he who now sits in Red China, in exile, and directs the com- the insurgency within Thailand.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Louis Lomax Pridi and Pibul were the people who set up Thammasat University, the first free university Thailand has ever had, and Thammasat University has produced the intellectuals of Thailand today. So your question is so germane because Thai- the intellectual Thais of today were the students of Pridi and Pibul.
Studs Terkel This is interesting, and also what we have done, you know a comment made by some young American visiting Vietnam was, what the Americans succeeded in doing is make -- this young Vietnamese was anti-American, of course, said to the American, "What you succeeded in doing is make prostitutes of our women, beggars of our children, Communists of our men", you know. [laughter] So I'm thinking about this comment. They started out intellectuals seeking a certain free way of living.
Louis Lomax Yeah.
Louis Lomax Well--
Louis Lomax You see, just as a matter of pure international economics, Studs, you cannot export that which you do not grow, and you cannot give to a man in the rice fields of Vietnam that which you don't have yourselves. And one of the great schizoid points in the American psyche is that we say, we're trying to bring freedom and equality and justice to the people of Vietnam, when in reality we haven't been able to give it all of our own citizens.
Studs Terkel Yeah, see now we come -- I think that Louis Lomax is, of course, hitting the, he's biting into the core of the apple of this moment. How ridden we are, how in thrall we are, with the phrases that we've invented. And the big question is, who has anointed us with sacred oil? This is the key point, isn't it?
Louis Lomax Indeed.
Studs Terkel Now if we can go even further. So we have the devil, you are saying there is no one monolithic devil, and Communism itself today we know has -- as the atoms fragmented, as the East-West blocs are fragmented, Communism is of course, too. And so, there's more nationalistic in its flavor now.
Louis Lomax That's right. You see, what happens, an- and of course, even if one accepted the domino theory, and I don't, but even if one did, whatever governments are formed in these various countries as the result of the uprisings of various peoples, these governments will take on economic and social characteristics which are peculiar to that country. The same kind of Communism, for example, that exists in Yugoslavia - you've got yourself a Tito - certainly isn't the Communism of Russia and certainly is not the Communism of China.
Louis Lomax Precisely, precisely. You see what happens is that -- and again we get into this theology thing -- very few countries in the world are capable of the kind of capitalism we have. And we labor under this notion that capitalism as we know it, like Minerva, sprung full blown from the head of Zeus, which of course just ain't so. Our kind of capitalism is rooted in our economic potential, because we started out as a great vast country with a tremendous amount of economic resources, and we've about done all of the expansion that we can do. But our economics was not dictated in heaven. It was dictated by practical economic reality. By the same token, if you live in Asia, and your country is nothing but a rice field, or you live in Africa and your whole country is perched atop a hot rock, there's not very much to be laissez faire capitalistic about. So you have to work out a kind of economy where all of the people can share in the kinds of goods that there are, which is the basic function of the Thai village, by the way. Nobody, this is very interesting in Thailand.
Louis Lomax to ask you about it, go ahead. Nobody can starve in a Thai village because everybody works the fields. You gather the rice. You sell the rice to a middleman who's usually a Chinese, but you take the money and it's divvied up. But most of all you harvest the rice and you put it into a common pot and everybody eats rice.
Louis Lomax Nobody can starve. And it's communal also in the sense that the Thai family tends to be a very tightly knit thing and they live in what is called the longhouse, and it's back to the old testament of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, where the sons get married and they bring their daughters into the home and then they have children and they also come into the home, which again is dictated by economics. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Rebecca and that group lived as they did because the economics of the time dictated it. You needed these hands to till the soil, and in Thai you need these hands to thrash the rice.
Studs Terkel I think it'd be worthwhile, Louis Lomax, if you read that first two para- the first paragraph, first sequence of the chapter, "The Tie That Binds," [sic] the nature of Thai people, the kind of people in Si- the country once called Siam.
Louis Lomax By the way, they are very beautiful kind of people too. "Thailand, in more than just geo- geography, is a sprawling country. The proud and wealthy Chinese hotel owner in downtown Bangkok makes the rice peasant from northeast rice fields appear to be an Aborigine. Yet they are both Thais. The Thai speaking the central Thai language of Bangkok makes one question whether or not the man speaking Thai Malay comes from the same planet. Yet they are both Thais. The sophisticated Thai women who dress in the latest Parisian fashions to attend a royal ball, do not impress one as the sisters of the wrinkled-face old woman whose arthritic fingers paddle a leaky boat along the khlong that parallels Freedom Road. Yet they are sisters. They are both Thais. The obviously white woman who is the cashier at the Bangkok hotel stood chattering away with the almost black woman who was the desk clerk. The conversation was about the love mishaps of the distinctly brown woman who worked as a director of the hotel's cleaning staff. They all laughed with great abandon and understanding because they are all Thais. The Muslim removing his shoes to enter the temple of Yala, and the Buddhist walking barefoot into the temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok are both Thais. The Communist who joined me at dinner and the government official who walked with me along the khlongs. The Thai intellectual who argued that democracy was only for the educated elite. The mayor of Nakhon Phanom who called Bangkok officials "bastards". The Lao who runs the barbeque chicken place along Freedom Road. The Phu Thai who comes down from the mountains to fish. They're all Thais. Rassamee and Yod along with their followers in the mountain jungles are Thais also."
Louis Lomax Yes.
Studs Terkel Leader with Rassamee, the beautiful girl in the hills, who are the communist guerrillas. So but in the middle of all this comes this stranger -- the man in, a man whose biography, whose work you wrote about, Malcolm X called the blue-eyed devil.
Louis Lomax Yeah.
Louis Lomax Yeah.
Louis Lomax Yeah. And he also says something else. He also says that your backyard is my first line of defense. And the tragic truth, Studs, is I wish it were true that we did love the Thai people. I wish it were true that we did love the Vietnamese. Then we could say we're here to help you because we love you but in reality we don't love them. We don't give a damn about them. What we're really saying over there is, "We're going to fight the communists in your backyard because if we don't one they we'll have to fight them at Long Beach."
Studs Terkel Please.
Louis Lomax If we loved the Vietnamese people, where were we when the Vietnamese were fighting the French to overthrow colonialism? We were supporting the French, and only when the French bit the rice paddy at Dien Bien Phu, did we look up and realize that when the Vietnamese people voted in concord with the Geneva Accords of 1954 that Ho Chi Minh, whether we like him or not, is the George Washington of his country to them. When we realized he was going to get elected, then we went into a monastery just outside Washington D.C. and got Diem, who hadn't been home in 20 years, and we put him in power and we're doing the identical thing in Thailand. If we love the Thai people, where were we when the Thai people were being oppressed by their own government?
Studs Terkel You know, I think we're coming down to the nitty gritty again. "Thailand", is the book, "The War That Is, The War That Will Be. A First Hand Account of a Vietnam in the Making." Louis E. Lomax calls it, Random House the publishers, and we are using this book, really the book as a very excellent one indeed. It is must-reading. But let's use what you just said as the base now for a free-wheeling conversation, and the book will be, we'll return--
Louis Lomax Fine.
Studs Terkel Back and forth to the book. The matter of who we are, what we're doing. We use the phrase we are a freedom-loving people and yet the very -- and we use a phrase that Communism as an enemy is monolithic, yet history seems to indicate it's very fragmented indeed. But if there's a monolithic political structure at the moment it is us, we ourselves at this moment. We are the monolithic people, it would seem, isn't it?
Louis Lomax Well, as I was about to say when we had to switch the tape, what America has become is the big bad white bully of the world. It's just that simple. And people don't like to talk about it. For example, it surfaced the other day when Dean Rusk committed something of a faux pas and he talked about the Chinese threat.
Louis Lomax Yeah.
Studs Terkel And there's also evidence, in fact several very excellent books on the subject, that it was a political rather than military decision, that Japan was practically on its knees at the time.
Studs Terkel But we come back to this theme again about America, and who we are, and what we're doing, and are we aware of it. You say some of the Thai people, the various deals that were put forth, the Thai people and the American people seem to be the only two people unaware of what is happening.
Louis Lomax Well, you see the -- and this is an incredible story that I try to detail in my book -- the Thai people, for example, were going about their business every day, watching the American planes take off in the air and officially the Thai government was saying to the Thai people, "The Americans are not here. That's a mirage you see going up there. You could be put in jail for discussing it." It just, and even when it got to the point last spring when Graham Martin, our Ambassador, finally stood up before the American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand, that is the American businessmen in Thailand, and said, "We have, you know, upwards of 50,000 troops," the Thai foreign minister got very angry and said, "How dare you release this information without my knowing it?" And here all of the brothels in Thailand are filled with American soldiers, every night club is filled with American soldiers. And officially the Thai government never said to its people, "We have some honored guests in our country."
Louis Lomax Well, I think one of the most interesting criticisms I heard of the American presence in Thailand came from a very conservative Thai businessman. And in Thailand, Studs, every man has -- it's an open thing, you know, they have concubines, they have mistresses and it's the expected thing. And I was having dinner with him one evening and in walked a American soldier with a Thai girl and a Thai gentleman would never, no never, take his mistress or his concubine out, you see. And he looked at me, and he was trained at Oxford and he said, "Mr. Lomax, may I ask you something about the culture of your country?" And I said, "Yes," and he said, "Do all American men take their prostitutes to dinner?" And this has upset this has upset a number of Thai gentleman, you see, they see these Americans -- you see, because the American is a very funny kind of guy. He'll come into Bangkok as a respite from the war in Vietnam. And he will meet a prostitute and he's with her for the entire week and he takes her out. He takes her to dinner. He takes it to the theater.
Studs Terkel So it seems, not only is there is there incredible brutality and stupidity involved here in our policy with all non-white peoples of the world, and it seems that white people in other countries seem to be questioning what we're doing as whether we whether we have removed ourselves from reality altogether, how removed we are from the mores and cultures of a people, and yet impose our own mores and cultures upon them. It's what this amounts to, the story you just told us is indicative of that, too.
Louis Lomax Yeah. This well, of course, war, if we may use some language, it's not only hell, but it's disruptive. There's no no no no such thing as a nice war. I don't think Japan, for example, will never be the same. I'm not so much talking about the bombing, but I'm talking about the American occupation. What we've done, we've done it in Vietnam and now we've done it in Thailand. And maybe there's some pluses to it as well, but let me let me let me follow this thought out. We have gone in, we've disrupted a kind of a culture, we've we've disrupted a way of life for a people. Now the plus is -- and this is to impose an American judgment -- the plus is that we have filled the Thai people with new expectations. And I think this is going to work in favor of the insurgents in Thailand. For the first time now, the Thai farmer, you see, has seen some things. He knows what it is to see somebody eat a decent meal. The Thai schoolteacher, for example, she is now leaving the schoolroom to become a secretary or a clerk or an interpreter at the American airbase at five times the salary, you see, she could ever have earned in Thailand as a schoolteacher. The Thai doctor who used to labor, what little labor he did because most of them hung out in Bangkok, in the rice fields and served the Thai native needs. All of a sudden now, he's a very very wealthy kind of man and all in all, now, the American presence has made an impact on Thailand. It will never be the same again.
Louis Lomax Yeah.
Louis Lomax Precisely.
Louis Lomax I'm going to give you an even more current one, and I'm glad to plug somebody else's book because not only are we published by the same house, but we have the same editor, a brilliant editor by the way, Bob Loomis. And that is William Styron. His great book now.
Louis Lomax "The Confessions of Nat Turner". And I am I'm an evidence of the same thing. The mistake the white South made with Nat Turner was twofold: one, they told him about Jesus, which they never should have done and two, they let him go to school. They made the same mistake with me by the way and now they are reaping the wild winds of it. [laughter]
Louis Lomax You see. You know, let's have some fun on this. I I have often wanted to get into a debate with somebody like Jim Baldwin and, just for the intellectual hell of it, take the white southerner's point of view, because there's a great deal of validity in what he's saying. What he's saying is, "If you let these clowns learn how to read and write and let them figure out that in 1776, for example, some folks didn't obey their local police and then you tell them about Jesus you know, you're going to have trouble out [of it? there?]."
Studs Terkel As you're talking, Louis. This is a rather interesting. Former superintendent of police in Chicago [Sid Enlightened?] was telling, and not and not in opposition to the man who told him this story, was a Thai chief of police. Interesting. The Bangkok chief of police said, "You know something" -- and the point he was saying both had a shot or two -- saying that there are certain people you must not allow to get too educated.
Louis Lomax Mhm.
Studs Terkel We know Indian villages sometimes where the poverty is so deep, there isn't a chance of revolution. It's when the window was open slightly, isn't it? Isn't this indeed Watts and Detroit to some extent?
Louis Lomax Of course. Of course. I had a big bang, bang too with Rap Brown, about three weeks ago, on this very point. You know, here I am 45 years old. I've been fighting for civil rights at least 30 of these 45 years. I have been writing for at least 25 of these 45 years, and Rap Brown had the unmitigated gall to look at me and shake his finger in my face and he called me an Uncle Tom. He said that all of my books were written in the image of Uncle Tom, that the civil rights movement since 1954 had not accomplished a damn thing. And I say, "Rap, baby, one thing we did, we made you."
Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] Louis Lomax, as we're talking, this is not unrelated to his book on Thailand, because we come to another kind of person who has had, has been suffering and that's the woman.
Louis Lomax Yeah.
Louis Lomax Yeah. What you see here again when when when the male is suppressed in any society, the woman takes on a very ambiguous role. She becomes mama, sweetheart, lover, sister, bread-earner. And of course the man sinks deeper and deeper into a certain kind of, if I may mix a metaphor, a certain kind of emasculation. Now the women in Thailand support their women- their men brilliantly. They're excellent as runners. So are the Buddhist priests, by the way, because they can ride the buses for free and nobody ever would think of searching a Buddhist priest. And so many of the Thai insurgents dress as priests and shave their heads and, you know, they're home free. But back to this woman thing, they provide, of course, sex for the men in the hills, but most of all they are runners. They cook. They do an awful lot of things. But can we come to, can we talk about the woman in American society, since we're sort of freewheeling?
Studs Terkel It's "Thailand". It's a, it's a brief book, a very pungent one indeed. "The War That Is, The War That Will Be," Random House, Louis E. Lomax, my guest, the writer of it. Now you're talking about--
Louis Lomax Yeah, let's talk about American woman because I think it will help us. She's the nigger. The American woman is really the nigger in American society. She, more than the black man, is the one to whom we have said, literally, "Stay in your place." You know, the back of the bus, which is the kitchen. "Be obvious and pleasant and funny and entertaining when I need you. Leave when I don't need you. Don't ask uppity questions. You know, if I give you an inch, you're gonna take a mile. I really don't want you in my world competing with me." For example, in Los Angeles, and it will soon be syndicated, I have a two hour and a half television program, a staff of nine people, and I'm a Negro, but there's no woman in America who has what I have. She couldn't get it. So the discrimination against her -- she's the real nigger in American society.
Studs Terkel Yeah, this is a fascinating point. A lady I met, I call her for the moment Lucy Jefferson, and she is Negro and Lucy Jefferson says, "I am freer than a white woman." But the Negro man is like the white woman, is what she was saying.
Louis Lomax Mhm.
Louis Lomax You know, they get all worked up about their sisters and their daughters, you know that bit. And one of the reasons why they get worked up, and I think justifiably so, and I've seen this over and over again evidenced, if the Negro man and the white woman ever sit down honestly and talk, she understands what the Negro man is saying. The white man doesn't.
Studs Terkel Well, it's not accidental that the the suffrage movement and the abolitionist movement were conjoined to a great extent. It's not accidental some old white ladies in Atlanta used to sit in front of the court sometimes while a Negro man is being tried.
Louis Lomax You know, maybe you'll enjoy this one. It's part of the folklore of the civil rights movement and I'm going to do a book on this soon, gathering all of these great old things that happened because they're getting away from us. There was a wonderful instance, just outside of Biloxi, Mississippi, where they had a water fountain, a public water fountain. And Studs, it was nothing but a pipe coming up out of the ground and it split into a Y, okay? And on one side of the Y, the sign was hanging, saying "white," on the other side of the sign, Y, the signed said "colored". So we said to the mayor of the town, "Okay, baby, come on, let's integrate this water fountain". And he says, "By God, I don't want my daughter to have a nigger baby". And in one of my lucid moments I said, "Well, Mr. Mayor, if your daughter can get pregnant from drinking water she belongs in a museum".
Louis Lomax Oh, since we are on fantasy, maybe we can talk a little bit about how mystique, how fantasy, particularly religious myths, are at play in Thailand. Thailand is a very religious country. It's Buddhist.
Louis Lomax Yeah. The whole Phibun thing I'm coming to now. And they're from that branch of Buddhism which, of course, believes that you build up good works and you build up bad works, and it's, and the whole thing is for your good works to outweigh your bad works. But the interesting part about this is the mystique in their brand of Buddhism and that is, it's the same thing that afflicts Christians. You know, somebody was going to come back one day in the Christian religion, we're looking for somebody.
Louis Lomax A messiah. So they are looking for a Phibun. Now, interesting things. What will Phibun do when he comes to Thailand? Well, he's going to be able to work miracles. He will be able to fly and when he lands, he will be surrounded by a chorus of a choir of heavenly music. Now the communist insurgents are using this to tremendous advantage because with precooked food and a backwoods Thai village, you dump it into some water and it turns into food. You've worked a miracle. And as one guy who's in the middle of plotting the revolution said to me, that with these new Jet [sic] Rogers packs, you know, that we now have for our guys, you can strap it on your back and zip, you fly for 400-500 yards. So it's really going to be no problem to fly in. And with a transistor radio you can be surrounded by a heavenly choir, of course.
Louis Lomax Yeah.
Studs Terkel And our policy, just as indeed it does in the matter of race here in America, fantasy is involved. And so it seems it's carried out, of course, in extremists in our international policy, particularly involving colored nations; particularly involving Asia, at this moment, Southeast Asia and indeed one day I suspect soon, Latin America and Africa.
Studs Terkel So we come -- Thailand, in a sense you see as an extension of mistakes, horrendous boners, howlers, and incredible sins committed in Vietnam, but compounded here. They would just continue. Then where does this--
Louis Lomax Well, let me say this. I'm going to say two things. One, I believe that growing feeling in America against the war in Vietnam will ultimately force us out. The one thing about Lyndon Johnson I like--
Studs Terkel That's a very funny crack. Well, this is an interesting point. So the question is there's a growing feeling and also, but I think, everything Louis Lomax is saying, also there's a, I think, a subtext here, that there's a humanity, there's a buried humanity, buried deeper in some than others. And there's a -- you spoke of certain Americans you met, a certain decency there, a certain wild night you rode the elephant.
Louis Lomax Oh boy, you're making me relive -- and I hope it comes through in the book that I enjoyed it. An elephant, of course, is a very wild drink they make in Thailand by putting water into a kind of rice and putting yeast in it and they bury it in the ground and then they dig it up and they stick a long reed in it and everybody has to line up like in a conga line, and you take a big gulp of this, suck it up. But the point was not so much that we were sitting there drinking this, but the people who were there, American airmen who were flying. And then after the second ride on the elephant, they began to cry. Question whether one, what they were doing was morally right and two, whether it was militarily effective. The Peace Corpsman was sitting there crying, "Dammit. Dammit if you military people had just stayed out of Thailand. We'd gotten the Thai schoolteachers going. We were doing this we were doing that. Now the teachers are leaving." You know, to go to work for more money. And here you saw a sort of America in microcosm. You ride then from the party on a rickshaw and you hear this white voice with a twang, saying, "Hey boy, bring that there rickshaw here," and then you hear another voice saying, "Did you hear what that white [whispered word?] said?" You know.
Louis Lomax Exactly. You know, and here is this microcosm. It's like a segment of Chicago just kind of carved out and plunked - blat - in the middle of Thailand. And you wonder why. You know, I I feel and I happen to feel it rather deeply, that our real problem is not Communism. Our real problem is not our fear of Communism. Our real problem, Studs, is we don't dig people. We are a materialistically, money-oriented society. We print our money on the basis, and we're savage in this, our money is based on dust, jewels, sparkling things in the ground. I wonder what would happen if instead of basing the value of the dollar on the amount of gold in Fort Knox, we base the value of the dollar on the number of people. If we had a people-oriented -- and I think the new gospel is the gospel according to Barbra Streisand.
Louis Lomax Yeah.
Studs Terkel So it's a question of [keeping is blowing away?] in ourselves, indeed, we're talking now about sanity too as well as life, both related. Louis Lomax's book. At this moment, the there's a, I think I hear the sound of a cab, because Mr. Lomax has to catch his plane back to Los Angeles and the coast. The book is "Thailand: The War That Is, The War That Will Be". Louis Lomax's own observations, experiences, an excellent journalist, Random House the publishers. And in a way it's a warning, in a way perhaps also a sign of hope, the hope that is if we if we see a certain basic truth, because many Americans indeed it seems are sensing it--
Louis Lomax Studs, before I grab a plane, may I end with sharing with you, and I hope I can remember it, one of my favorite pieces of doggerel goes this way, "A million men went forth to fight because twenty diplomats thought it right. And for their cause, the men fought and tried and in the name of their countries, they all died. But if the diplomats had gone to war instead, only twenty men would have been dead."