Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Wizard Behind the Curtain: Walter Cronkite

At Fresno State I majored in History in the mid ’80s. While there, I befriended fellow students from San Joaquin Valley agricultural communities—as though there were any other kind—such as Firebaugh, of course Fresno, Madera, Mendota, Merced, Parlier, Reedley, and Three Rocks. “Three Rocks! Where the hell is Three Rocks?” I said to Ralph shortly after meeting him. He couldn't tell me. I imagined three stones out in the middle of nowhere.

One reason I was drawn to Fresno State was due to my misguided assumption that there would be many Chicano students. After all, the university was in the middle of ag. land. Later I came to understand that I would have been better off in this regard attending a university nearer Oxnard like CSUN or Cal. State L.A. But neither had a wrestling team so that was not going to work.

As I signed up for classes on a catch as catch can manner, I took Constitutional Law because Chicano friends Gene, Jaime, and Anthony majored in Political Science and Public Administration. I liked hanging with them and Constitutional Law was related to US History, so I took both sections just because I liked their company.

One evening we studied a Supreme Court case on the powers of the presidency during the 1960s. I don’t remember the case but it led to the professor’s interminable talk on the presidencies of John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and the Vietnam War. At one point, the professor rhetorically asked the class of about six, “When did the US public stop supporting the war in Vietnam?” The professor pushed up his glasses with his index finger as he panned the faces of all six of us. Then Gene raised his hand. Anthony, Jaime, me, and the other two students shifted our heads to Gene in surprise. Gene then said it was in February of 1968 when Walter Cronkite reported from Vietnam during the evening news that the US was not winning the war as told by the military. At best it was a stalemate. Gene stole the professor's thunder. He could only stoically affirm Gene's answer before letting us out for a break.

We escorted Gene in triumph to get coffee as we asked how he knew the answer. With a big grin he confessed: “The more Professor B went on, the more I realized that he was recounting the PBS documentary I was watching the other night on the Vietnam War. One scene showed Walter Cronkite declaring that the US was not winning the war.” We laughed. And it was hard to keep a straight face when we returned to the second half of that class meeting.

Authority and power is based on the possession of knowledge. This is the central point I learned in Con Law.

Con Safos, fpb