Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Viola's

Yesterday, I flew down to DC to see a friend get inducted into his high school's Athletic Hall of Fame. Joe Viola graduated from Gonzaga High School in 1983 and returned to the school in the 90's to teach and work there in various jobs. In 1999, he became the coach of the swim team and over the next five years, racked up a boatload of championships (there are too many different leagues and swimming tournaments to keep track of them). A few years ago, The Washington Post named him the All-Met Swimming Coach of the Year.

It was a great honor to see a friend receive. Joe doesn't think he deserves it but apparently, a lot of others folks thinks he does. Afterwards, they had a reception where it was fun catching up with a bunch of friends I have from my post-college days of living down in DC. It was a good time. Plus, I got to see what Joe looked like in high school.

After the reception, Joe's parents invited friends and family members to a bar down the street for some more drinks. Joe's father, Herman Viola, is a curator at the Smithsonian, a prolific author and one of the country's foremost experts on the American West, in general, and American Indians specifically. Plus, like his son, he's a good storyteller so it's always fun to talk to him.

Herman said he was working on a new book called Warriors in Uniform about the role American Indians have played in the US military over the years. It's interesting because, he said that a large number of American Indians have had heroic careers in the military but also enjoyed carrying their ancestors' traditions surrounding being a warrior into a modern battle with them. For this reason, Herman said that the US military doesn't want him to write this book. They are afraid that if stories about US soldiers taking scalps got attention in today's climate, that they would have a large public relations issue on their hands.

I don't really see how the US miliatry draws a distinction between the brutality of the large-scale killing that is done in its name and the taking of a scalp. Neither act deserves the moral upperhand.

Herman told the story of a paratrooper in Vietnam named Carson Walks Over Ice who was awarded the Bronze Star. However, Walks Over Ice was less excited about receiving the Bronze Star than he was about achieving the four stages of being a warrior in his tribe. In his tribe, to be a warrior, the four things you have to do is touch someone you killed, take an enemy's weapon, scalp someone and finally take an enemy's horse. During his time in Vietnam, Walks Over Ice acheived the first three. However, he failed on the fourth but always tried to reconcile it against the fact that he once shot a Viet-Cong riding an elephant on the Ho Chi Min trail and took the guy's four elephants. He didn't know what to do with the elephants (all four were harnesed trunk-to-tail) so he just tied them to a tree. Apparently, Walks Over Ice has always wondered if taking an elephant was the equivalent of taking an enemy's horse.

Regardless of how I feel about the violence in such stories, I would like to see Herman Viola catalog these stories in a book before we lose them forever. Having an accurate account of history and telling the underreported story of the role the American Indian has played on the battlefield is important. Hopefully, the military won't interfere with his work.


Nico said...

After reading this post, I feel like crap that I'm not going to be able to attend a friend's wedding in DC in December a few days before Christmas. :(

Flatlander said...

Sorry to bring up a sore spot with ya.

That's a tough date for someone to choose for a wedding. They couldn't have waited two weeks until after New Years?

Nico said...

Yeah, it seems odd to me too, but I think it's more frequent these days (my brother got married about 10 days before Christmas.) It's actually a week before now that I check it, but there's just no way. Journalists just don't get time off at the holidays.

Anonymous said...

do you know Herman's phone number?
My social studies cass wants to meet him because he wrote the book Why We Remember

Flatlander said...

If you send me an email with your contact info and where you are located, I'll pass the info along to him. I don't want to post his contact info on my blog.

My email address is jamkids @ gmail dot com

I typed the email address like that so software programs that comb blogs for email address won't add me to their spam lists.