N ew Years morning 1969 I opened the year on a happy note. Frank Holt had just been reelected to the supreme court, only two years after his defeat in the governors race. I drove to Little Rock, to the judges swearing-in ceremony. Predictably, he had urged us not to spend New Years Day on this modest ritual, but more than fifty of us diehards showed up anyway. My diary says: I told him I wasnt about to pull out just because he was winning! Ironically, as a new justice, he was assigned to the old offices of Justice Jim Johnson.
On January 2, Joe Newman and I drove Mother home to Hope to tell what remained of her family that she was going to marry Jeff the next day. When we got home, Joe and I took the The Roger Clintons sign off the mailbox. With his sharp sense of irony, Joe laughed and said, Its kinda sad that it comes off so easily. Despite the harbingers of doom, I thought the marriage would work. As I wrote in my diary, If Jeff is nothing more than a con man, as some still insist, then color me conned.
The next night, the ceremony was short and simple. Our friend Reverend John Miles led them through their vows. Roger lit the candles. I was best man. There was a party afterward at which Carolyn Yeldell and I played and sang for the wedding guests. Some preachers would have refused church sanction to the wedding because Jeff was divorced, and so recently. Not John Miles. He was a pugnacious, tough, liberal Methodist who believed Jesus was sent by his Father God to give us all second chances.
On January 4, thanks to my friend Sharon Evans, who knew Governor Rockefeller, I was invited to lunch with the governor at his ranch on Petit Jean Mountain. I found Rockefeller friendly and articulate. We discussed Oxford and his son Winthrop Pauls desire to go there. The governor wanted me to keep in touch with Win Paul, who had spent a lot of his childhood in Europe, when he began his studies at Pembroke College in the fall.
After lunch, I had a good talk with Win Paul, after which we headed southwest for a rendezvous with Tom Campbell, who had driven to Arkansas from Mississippi, where he was in marine flight training. The three of us drove to the Governors Mansion, which Win Paul had invited us to see. We were all impressed, and I left thinking I had just seen an important piece of Arkansas history, not the place that in a decade would become my home for twelve years.
On January 11, I flew back to England on the same plane with Tom Williamson, who was educating me about being black in America, and Frank Aller, who recounted his difficult holiday, in which his conservative father made getting a haircut, but not reporting for the draft, a precondition of Christmas at home. When I got back to Univ, I found in my stack of mail a remarkable letter from my old friend and baptismal partner, Marine Private Bert Jeffries. I recorded some excerpts of his stunning, sad message:
. . . Bill, Ive already seen many things and been through a lot no man of a right mind would want to see or go through. Over here, they play for keeps. And its either win or lose. Its not a pretty sight to see a buddy you live with and become so close to, to have him die beside you and you know it was for no good reason. And you realize how easily it could have been you.
I work for a Lieutenant Colonel. I am his bodyguard. . . . On the 21st of November we came to a place called Winchester. Our helicopter let us off and the Colonel, myself, and two other men started looking over the area . . . there were two NVAs [North Vietnamese Army soldiers] in a bunker, they opened up on us. . . . The Colonel got hit and the two others were hit. Bill, that day I prayed. Fortunately I got the two of them before they got me. I killed my first man that day. And Bill, its an awful feeling, to know you took another mans life. Its a sickening feeling. And then you realize how it could have been you just as easily.
The next day, January 13, I went to London for my draft exam. The doctor declared me, according to my fanciful diary notes, one of the healthiest specimens in the western world, suitable for display at medical schools, exhibitions, zoos, carnivals, and base training camps. On the fifteenth I saw Edward Albees A Delicate Balance, which was my second surrealistic experience in as many days. Albees characters forced the audience to wonder if some day near the end they wont wake up and find themselves hollow and afraid. I was already wondering that.
President Nixon was inaugurated on January 20. His speech was an attempt at reconciliation, but it left me pretty cold, the preaching of good old middle-class religion and virtues. They will supposedly solve our problems with the Asians, who do not come from the Judeo-Christian tradition; the Communists, who do not even believe in God; the blacks, who have been shafted so often by God-fearing white men that there is hardly any common ground left between them; and the kids, who have heard those same song-and-dance sermons sung false so many times they may prefer dope to the audacious self-delusion of their elders. Ironically, I believed in Christianity and middle-class virtues, too; they just didnt lead me to the same place. I thought living out our true religious and political principles would require us to reach deeper and go further than Mr. Nixon was prepared to go.
I decided to get back into my own life in England for whatever time I had left. I went to my first Oxford Union debateResolved: that man created God in his own image, a potentially fertile subject poorly ploughed. I went north to Manchester, and marveled at the beauty of the English countryside quilted by those ancient rock walls without mortar or mud or cement. There was a seminar on Pluralism as a Concept of Democratic Theory, which I found boring, just another attempt to explain in more complex (therefore, more meaningful, of course) terms what is going on before our own eyes. . . . It is only so much dog-dripping to me because I am at root not intellectual, not conceptual about the actual, just damn well not smart enough, I reckon, to run in this fast crowd.
On January 27, the actual reared its ugly head again, as a few of us threw a party for Frank Aller on the day he officially became a draft resister, walking along the only open road. Despite the vodka, the toasts, the attempts at humor, the party was a bust. Even Bob Reich, easily the wittiest of us, couldnt make it work. We simply could not lift the burden from Franks shoulders on this, the day when he put his money where his mouth was. The next day Strobe Talbott, whose draft status was already 1-Y because of an old football injury, became really unsuited for military service when his eyeglasses met up with John Isaacsons squash racket on the Univ court. The doctor spent two hours pulling glass out of his cornea. He recovered and went on to spend the next thirty-five years seeing things most of us miss.
For a long time, February has been a hard month for me, dominated by fighting the blues and waiting for spring to come. My first February in Oxford was a real zinger. I fought it by reading, something I did a lot of at Oxford, with no particular pattern except what my studies dictated. I read hundreds of books. That month I read John Steinbecks The Moon Is Down, partly because he had just died and I wanted to remember him with something I hadnt read before. I reread Willie Morriss North Toward Home, because it helped me to understand my roots and my better self. I read Eldridge Cleavers Soul on Ice and pondered the meaning of soul. Soul is a word I use often enough to be Black, but of course, and I occasionally think unfortunately, I am not. . . . The soul: I know what it isits where I feel things; its what moves me; its what makes me a man, and when I put it out of commission, I know soon enough I will die if I do not retrieve it. I was afraid then that I was losing it.
My struggles with the draft rekindled my long-standing doubts about whether I was, or could become, a really good person. Apparently, a lot of people who grow up in difficult circumstances subconsciously blame themselves and feel unworthy of a better fate. I think this problem arises from leading parallel lives, an external life that takes its natural course and an internal life where the secrets are hidden. When I was a child, my outside life was filled with friends and fun, learning and doing. My internal life was full of uncertainty, anger, and a dread of ever-looming violence. No one can live parallel lives with complete success; the two have to intersect. At Georgetown, as the threat of Daddys violence dissipated, then disappeared, I had been more able to live one coherent life. Now the draft dilemma brought back my internal life with a vengeance. Beneath my new and exciting external life, the old demons of self-doubt and impending destruction reared their ugly heads again.
I would continue to struggle to merge the parallel lives, to live with my mind, body, and spirit in the same place. In the meantime, I have tried to make my external life as good as possible, and to survive the dangers and relieve the pain of my internal life. This probably explains my profound admiration for the personal courage of soldiers and others who put their lives at risk for honorable causes, and my visceral hatred of violence and abuse of power; my passion for public service and my deep sympathy for the problems of other people; the solace I have found in human companionship and the difficulty Ive had in letting anyone into the deepest recesses of my internal life. It was dark down there.
I had been down on myself before, but never like this, for this long. As I said, I first became self-aware enough to know that those feelings rumbled around beneath my sunny disposition and optimistic outlook when I was a junior in high school, more than five years before I went to Oxford. It was when I wrote an autobiographical essay for Ms. Warnekes honors English class and talked about the disgust that storms my brain.
The storms were really raging in February 1969, and I tried to put them out by reading, traveling, and spending lots of time with interesting people. I would meet many of them at 9 Bolton Gardens in London, a spacious apartment that became my home away from Oxford on many weekends. Its full-time occupant was David Edwards, who had shown up at Helens Court one night with Dru Bachman, Ann Markusens Georgetown housemate, dressed in a zoot suit, a long coat with a lot of buttons and pockets, and flared pants. Before then, Id seen zoot suits only in old movies. Davids place in Bolton Gardens became an open house for a loose collection of young Americans, Britons, and others floating in and out of London. There were plenty of meals and parties, usually funded disproportionately by David, who had more money than the rest of us and was generous to a fault.
I also spent a lot of time alone at Oxford. I enjoyed the solitude of reading and was especially moved by a passage in Carl Sandburgs The People, Yes
Tell him to be alone often and get at himself
and above all tell himself no lies about himself.
. . .
Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong
and the final decisions are made in silent rooms.
. . .
He will be lonely enough
to have time for the work
he knows as his own.
Sandburg made me think something good could come of my wondering and worrying. I had always spent a lot of time alone, being an only child until I was ten, with both parents working. When I got into national politics, one of the more amusing myths propagated by people who didnt know me was that I hate to be by myself, probably because I relish the company of others, from huge crowds to small dinners and card games with friends. As President, I worked hard to schedule my time so that Id have a couple of hours a day alone to think, reflect, plan, or do nothing. Often I slept less just to get the alone time. At Oxford, I was alone a lot, and I used the time to do the sorting out Sandburg said a good life requires.
In March, with spring coming, my spirits lifted along with the weather. During our five-week vacation break, I took my first trip to the Continent, taking a train to Dover to see the white cliffs, then going by ferry to Belgium, where I took a train to Cologne, Germany. At 9:30 p.m., I stepped out of the station into the shadow of the magnificent medieval cathedral just up the hill, and understood why Allied pilots in World War II risked their lives to avoid destroying it by flying too low in their efforts to bomb the nearby rail bridge over the Rhine River. I felt close to God in that cathedral, as I have every time Ive returned to it. The next morning I met up with Rick Stearns, Ann Markusen, and my German friend Rudy Lowe, whom Id met in 1967 at CONTAC in Washington, D.C., to tour Bavaria. In Bamberg, Rudys thousand-year-old hometown, he took me to see the East German border nearby, where there was an East German soldier standing guard in a high outpost behind barbed wire on the edge of the Bavarian Forest.
While I was traveling, President Eisenhower died, one of the final fragments that remained of the American Dream. So did my relationship with Ann Markusen, a casualty of the times and my incapacity for commitment. It would be a long time before we reestablished our friendship.
Back in Oxford, George Kennan came to speak. Kennan had grave reservations about our Vietnam policy, and my friends and I were eager to hear him. Unfortunately, he stayed away from foreign policy, and instead launched into a diatribe against student demonstrators and the whole anti-war counterculture. After some of my cohorts, especially Tom Williamson, debated him for a while, the show was over. Our consensus reaction was neatly summed up in a droll comment by Alan Bersin: The book was better than the movie.
A couple of days later, I had an amazing dinner and argument with Rick Stearns, probably the most politically mature and savvy of our group. My diary notes that Rick tore into my opposition to the draft, saying that the end of it would ensure that the poor would bear an even larger burden of military service. Instead, Stearns wants national service, with alternate means of fulfillment to the military, but with inducements of shorter service time and higher salaries to keep the military force to acceptable levels. He believes everyone, not just the poor, should give community service. Thus was planted a seed that more than twenty years later, in my first presidential campaign, would blossom into my proposal for a national community service program for young people.
In the spring of 1969, the only national service was military, and its dimensions were measured by the callous term body count. By mid-April, the count included my boyhood friend Bert Jeffries. In the agony of the aftermath, his wife gave birth a month prematurely to their child, who, like me, would grow up with received memories of a father. When Bert died, he was serving in the marines with two of his closest friends from Hot Springs, Ira Stone and Duke Watts. His family got to select one person to bring his body home, a choice of some consequence since, under military regulations, that person didnt have to go back. They chose Ira, who had already been wounded three times, in part because Duke, who had had his own narrow escapes from death, had only a month left on his tour. I cried for my friend, and wondered again whether my decision to go to Oxford was not motivated more by the desire to go on living than by opposition to the war. I noted in my diary that the privilege of living in suspension . . . is impossible to justify, but, perhaps unfortunately, only very hard to live with.
Back home, the war protests continued unabated. In 1969, 448 universities had strikes or were forced to close. On April 22, I was surprised to read in The Guardian that Ed Whitfield from Little Rock had led an armed group of blacks to occupy a building on the campuses of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Just the summer before, Ed had been criticized by young militant blacks in Little Rock when we worked together to help Fulbright get reelected.
A week later, on April 30, the war finally came directly home to me, with a strange twist that was a metaphor for those bizarre times. I received my draft notice: I was ordered to report for duty on April 21. Its clear the notice had been mailed on April 1, but like my absentee ballot a few months earlier, it had been sent by surface mail. I called home to make sure the draft board knew I hadnt been a draft resister for nine days and asked what I should do. They told me the surface mailing was their mistake, and besides, under the rules, I got to finish the term I was in, so I was instructed to come home for induction when I finished.
I decided to make the most of what seemed certain to be the end of my Oxford stay, savoring every moment of the long English spring days. I went to the little village of Stoke Poges to see the beautiful churchyard where Thomas Gray is buried and read his Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, then to London to a concert and a visit to Highgate Cemetery, where Karl Marx is buried beneath a large bust that is a powerful likeness of him. I spent as much time as I could with the other Rhodes scholars, especially Strobe Talbott and Rick Stearns, from whom I was still learning. Over breakfast at Georges, an old-fashioned caf on the second floor of Oxfords covered market, Paul Parish and I discussed his application for conscientious-objector status, which I supported with a letter to his draft board.
In late May, along with Paul Parish and his lady friend, Sara Maitland, a witty, wonderful Scottish woman who later became a fine writer, I went to the Royal Albert Hall in London to hear the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. She was magnificent, with her booming voice and powerful, innocent faith. At the end of the concert, her young audience crowded around the stage, cheering and begging for an encore. They still hungered to believe in something larger than themselves. So did I.
On the twenty-eighth, I gave a farewell party at Univ for my friends: fellows from the college Id played rugby and shared meals with; Douglas and the other porters; my scout, Archie; the Warden and Mrs. Williams; George Cawkwell; and an assortment of American, Indian, Caribbean, and South African students Id gotten to know. I just wanted to thank them for being a big part of my year. My friends gave me a number of going-away gifts: a walking stick, an English wool hat, and a paperback copy of Flauberts Madame Bovary, which I still have.
I spent the first part of June seeing Paris. I didnt want to go home without having done so. I took a room in the Latin Quarter, finished reading George Orwells Down and Out in Paris and London, and saw all the sights, including the amazing small memorial to the Holocaust just behind Notre Dame. Its easy to miss, but worth the effort. You walk downstairs at the end of the island into a small space, turn around, and find yourself peering into a gas chamber.
My guide and companion on the trip was Alice Chamberlin, whom I had met through mutual friends in London. We walked through the Tuileries, stopping at the ponds to watch the children and their sailboats; ate interesting and cheap Vietnamese, Algerian, Ethiopian, and West Indian food; scaled Montmartre; and visited the church called Sacr Coeurwhere in reverence and humor I lit a candle for my friend Dr. Victor Bennett, who had died a few days before and who, for all his genius, was irrationally anti-Catholic. I was trying to cover all his bases. It was the least I could do after all hed done for Mother, Daddy, and me.
By the time I got back to Oxford, it was light almost around the clock. In the wee hours of one morning, my English friends took me to the rooftop of one of Univs buildings to watch the sun rise over the beautiful Oxford skyline. We were so pumped up we broke into the Univ kitchen, pinched some bread, sausages, tomatoes, and cheese, went back to my room for breakfast.
On June 24, I went to say good-bye to Bill Williams. He wished me well and said he expected me to become a disgustingly enthusiastic, pompous old alumnus. That night I had my last Oxford meal at a pub with Tom Williamson and his friends. On the twenty-fifth, I said good-bye to Oxfordpermanently, I believed. I went to London to meet Frank, Mary, and Lyda Holt. After we attended a night session of Parliament, and Judge and Mrs. Holt went home, I took Lyda to meet some friends for my last dinner in England, grabbed a couple of hours sleep at David Edwardss place, then got up early and headed for the airport with six friends who came along to see me off. We didnt know when, if ever, wed see each other again. I hugged them and ran for the plane.