| On my office wall was a souvenir photo of the entire U.S. delegation that had made a trip to Beijing the previous year with President Ford and Secretary Kissinger. There we stood with our Chinese hosts. Above and around our heads were the symbols of the PRC and its communist ideology. Near my photo was a woven silk picture of Chairman Mao playing ping-pong, given to me by one of our Chinese hosts. Finally, among my books behind the desk the visitors spotted works by Marx, Lenin, and the infamous "little red book" of Maoseveral copies of which I had brought back from China. |
Had they looked further, they would have found books on Lincoln, the Bible, the Koran, and several books on Jewish philosophy. But, the delegation had its evidence. What more did they need?
I ended the phone conversation with a heart-felt lament that an allegedly educated group of men could base their decision on such innuendo. The dean quietly agreed, and apologized for having no power to reverse the decision. In retrospect I doubt that in that environment the dean would have gone very far to defend my freedom of speech or other liberal ideals. Academic positions were hard to find in 1976.
My next appearance on that campus was a revelation to me and hopefully to the college elders. My classroom, usually populated by twenty-five tame and passive farm kids, was overflowing. The policy on auditing classes had never been an issue on these campuses, as students took the courses they needed, and found little of passing interest to bring them to classes for which they hadnt registered. My overflow crowd then was remarkable.
I dont remember the subject of that days scheduled lecture/discussion but it didnt matter. We had a lively and highly participatory (unusual on that campus) hour in which the regulars and auditors both were clearly trying to see what the Devil was really like. It must have been a bit disconcertingor downright discouragingfor the elders to learn that Satan had outdrawn Wednesday mid-day intramural basketball underway in the gym!
At the end of that memorable class, one of my better and consistently more interested students asked me to meet him for coffee at a snack bar in the village. I did so, finding him accompanied by a dozen other students. As we sipped our coffee they admitted they had lured me to this spot to determine whether I, Satan like, cast no shadow! They admitted to being confused because, although it was a dark, gloomy, cloudy day with snow threatening, some were convinced that they could see a faint darkening where I passed. No one was sure, however, and the jury remained out. Before the coffee-session broke up I suggested lightly that we meet again on the first sunny day and take a more definitive reading. These youngsters, who apparently had secretly sought Satan all their lives, thought that a good idea.
Throughout the remainder of that semester, small clusters of students accompanied me on my walks across campus and between car and classroom. While their innate politeness controlled the overtness of their curiosity, I couldnt help but note their watching for tell-tale signs of cloven feet, shadows, purple breath, etc. In my monthly reports to the Department of State and to Senator Pearson, I duly reported my satanic reputation. In reply, I received advice from the senator to roll with the punches of central Kansas, as I suspect he had, in getting elected. From the departmenta resounding silence. Nothing.
As my reputation spread, students on the other campuses teased me a bit, but usually with understanding and sympathy. By the end of the term in early January the subject seemed to have faded and I continued to be acceptedif not warmly welcomedin the community where I represented the sworn enemy. Both the community and I, however, were relieved that I would not be teaching on that particular campus again for a while.
My Pearson assignment to Kansas overall was so fascinating and satisfying that when the academic year ended in June I requested that the Department to extend my tour. As a part of the extension, the Department determined that during the intervening summer I would have to be inspected! Ironically, the officer sent by the inspector generals office was the officer who had been my boss in the Africa desk assignment I curtailed to accept the Pearson tour of duty. Although he was a good friend, the inspector took his duties seriously. On his second day on the prairie, he phoned me in breathless di sbelief: "Did you know youre Satanic?" he asked with great glee. I assured him that I was well aware of my status and that, not withstanding my diabolical reputation, I believed I had performed my duties there quite well.
In the end he agreed. The inspection report was all that could be hoped for, given my unusual setting, circumstances, and duties. The report, which Im sure still reposes somewhere in the inspector generals archives, contains the notation that I was, to the inspectors knowledge and after some investigation by him, believed to be the only Foreign Service officer officially designated by a recognized religious body to be a Satanic influence.
I cannot resist including this anecdote here.
Over the two years I spent in Kansas, I spoke at hundreds of luncheons, church suppers, college convocations, and the like in an area stretching from Kansas City to Dodge. In some ways this activity was the most revealing part of the assignment, as it brought home the "outsider" aspect of the Foreign Service to most Americans.
One incident especially illustrative of this was an evening in a church basement. After eating wonderful fried chicken and homemade biscuits, I was introduced to speak on something like "Your Foreign Service in Action." I dutifully described what we do, where we do it, why and how we do it for the prescribed forty minutes. Then I asked for questions from the audience.
An elderly lady in a wheelchair, whom I had noticed frequently adjusting her hearing aids during the talk, spoke up: "Young man, I appreciate your talk especially because I had no idea that our Forest Service had people in places like North Africa. Tell me, what sort of trees do they have there anyway?"
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