For my second entry under the “Books” category, I will be reviewing a somewhat infamous sci-fi novel: “Farnham’s Freehold” by Robert A. Heinlein.


I actually don’t know if “infamous” is the right word, but suffice it to say that this particular novel has stirred up a bit of controversy over the years, at least among people who know who Robert A. Heinlein is.

I personally only became introduced to the man’s writing a few years ago, when I read perhaps his most famous novel, “Starship Troopers.”

I read “Starship Troopers” some years after first seeing Paul Verhoeven‘s film adaptation of it. And to be honest, the film didn’t impress me all that much, at least not the first time I saw it. But subsequent viewings, done on lazy afternoons out of boredom, made me find that I had been in error in dismissing the film so quickly. (I don’t care much for the sequels, by the way.)

A significant part of the story of that film (and the novel) has to do with a slightly modified conception of the word “citizen.” In the film (and the novel; the novel goes into more depth on this issue), one cannot be a “citizen” unless one is in the military. That isn’t to say that non-military people are subjugated, really: the main difference between a “citizen” and everyone else is that “citizens” are allowed to vote. Non-military people, people who aren’t “citizens,” can’t vote.

The novel explains that the rationale behind this is that if one has willingly joined the military – and “willingly” is important; no one is forced to join – one has put his or her own life at risk for the benefit of all humanity. Therefore one has shown that one’s decisions are not based upon selfish whims, but rather on what constitutes the greater good.

To be sure, in our world, this concept seems, to say the least, strange. But in the world of “Starship Troopers,” humanity is no longer divided into countries, at least not in the same way we are divided today. All of humanity is working together to fight off threats from other worlds.

And yes, this idea of “citizens” consisting entirely of military personnel is a little bit, well, “out there.” And I may delve into this issue at some point in the future here on my blog, but not today. I merely wanted to mention it to give an example of the sort of thing Heinlein speculated about.

Heinlein was known as one of the “Big Three” of “hard sci-fi,” along with Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. Glance at the linked article for a better description of the term “hard sci-fi” if you are not familiar with the term, but it basically refers to sci-fi that is (at least mostly) based in actual science. To be sure, notions such as time travel and parallel universes and unproven things like that creep their way into “hard sci-fi” (including “Farnham’s Freehold”), but these things are always dealt with in such a way that reflects current scientific theories about these things.

I honestly don’t remember which of the other two of the Big Three said it – it was possibly both of them; for all the vast scientific knowledge and vivid imagination Clarke and Asimov possessed, they were refreshingly humble in their approach to writing, as was Heinlein – but at least one of them (Clarke or Asimov) referred to Heinlein as the true “master” of science fiction.

And though I have only read two of his novels, I have to say that if he isn’t a “master” of the genre, I don’t think there has ever been one.

In addition to keeping the “science” part of his sci-fi scientific, Heinlein also speculated quite compellingly about the effects his imagined advances in science would have upon society, and also how society itself might evolve over the millennia. And sometimes these speculations seem quite strange; nonetheless Heinlein presents them in such a way that they make complete sense, within the context of the stories themselves.

But enough blathering; on with the review:

“Farnham’s Freehold” begins in 1960s America, at the home of one Hugh Farnham. Hugh has an adult son named Duke, an adult daughter named Karen, an alcoholic wife named Grace, and an African-American “houseboy” named Joe. In addition, Karen’s friend from college, Barbara, is over for a visit.

You may have done a bit of a double-take at the word “houseboy.” And rightfully so. Joe, at the beginning of the novel, is essentially a live-in housekeeper.

And yes, the term “houseboy” may be construed as offensive. Joe is, after all, an adult.

But one must remember that this novel was first published in 1964. At that time, the Civil Rights Movement was going on. Back then, for a white family to have a black “houseboy” was not at all uncommon. Nor was it uncommon for a white family to treat their “houseboy” (and/or whatever the female equivalent of that distasteful term is) as if they were “beneath” them.

I am not saying that was “right.” Far from it. It was wrong, and it was shameful.

But it happened.

Hugh Farnham, the protagonist and patriarch in the story, is not a racist. He treats Joe – who is incidentally mentioned to be in accounting school – the way he treats everyone else. As an equal.

This is not the case for his wife Grace or his son Duke. These two are, to put it bluntly, bigots. They use racial epithets to describe Joe when he isn’t around. Hugh discourages them from doing so, which only makes them angry at him.

Which is typical bigot behavior.

And I think I have given a short peek at where the controversy lies in this novel. It has been called “racist” by many reviewers.

And I have to say, well, I disagree.

The notion that to illustrate racism in a text is to somehow make the text “racist” is…well, I suppose it’s a matter of opinion. In my opinion, if you want to discredit something like racism – as I posit Heinlein was at least attempting to do in this text – well, you have to illustrate what that something is. You have to show examples of it, I mean. And he does that quite well, I think.

But moving on with the plot, Hugh, Duke, Karen, and Barbara sit down to play contract bridge in the kitchen. Grace is passed out, and Joe has gone to bed. Suddenly, an emergency broadcast comes over the airwaves: the USA is under a nuclear assault.

Hugh is fully prepared for this eventuality. As a matter of fact, Duke has just been making fun of Hugh for building a nuclear bomb/fallout shelter under the house, one that is fully stocked with water, food, and supplies.

At any rate, when the emergency broadcast comes over the airwaves, everyone goes down to the shelter. Joe makes a last minute rescue of the family cat, then the shelter is sealed.

Not long after the shelter is sealed, Hugh declares that he is in charge, that he has made extensive plans for rationing food and supplies, and that anyone who has a problem with that can leave the shelter post-haste. Duke, in a somewhat typical “I’m a grown man, dad, you can’t tell me what to do” scene, tells Hugh he does not agree with this arrangement.

Hugh instructs Joe – the “houseboy” – to shoot Duke, if he refuses to comply. Joe, Hugh says, did not make fun of him when he (Hugh) was planning and building the shelter, Joe helped extensively with the construction and planning of the shelter, and Joe was now, for all intents and purposes, the second in command.

Of course, in later scenes – Duke submits to Hugh’s authority and Joe does not shoot him – Duke expresses resentment toward Joe, and his resentment often has an ugly bigoted tinge to it. As do other comments made about Joe.

But Hugh always steps up to Joe’s defense. Hugh does not treat Joe any differently – any worse or any better – than anyone else in his family. And he considers Joe to be part of his family.

At any rate, once everyone is in the shelter, the nukes hit. And they cause damage inside the shelter. It is assumed by everyone that the bombs hit pretty close to where the shelter is buried.

I don’t want to give too much away about the rest of the novel, at least spoiler-wise, but I have to give some things away, things that contributed to the controversy this novel generated.

But first, I would like to mention another sci-fi novel – although this other one crosses out of “hard sci-fi” and into “fantasy,” especially in its sequels – Frank Herbert‘s 1965 masterpiece “Dune.” If one glances at the pic provided at the top of this post, one can see my copy of “Dune” on the bookshelf behind me. I put it there on purpose.

At any rate, if you are familiar at all with the “Dune” series, you know that the government in “Dune” consists of a set of feudal lords, and that the mythology of the series borrows quite heavily from Islamic traditions, or at least Islamic nomenclature. “Houses” in “Dune” strongly resemble “Houses” in the Middle East, as do various customs and things like that in the novel and its sequels.

I do not know if Heinlein read any of “Dune” before he wrote and published “Farhnam’s Freehold” – parts of “Dune” had been serialized in late 1963 and early 1964, prior to its 1965 publication as a finished novel – but without revealing exactly how they got there, Hugh Farnham and his family end up in a “house” that also borrows quite heavily from Islamic traditions.

There is a supreme leader of the house, and a system of servants under him who cannot question his authority. The “law” is based on something similar to the Koran – which Hugh has read, being the amateur scholar that he is – the inhabitants speak “Language,” which is noted to be similar to Arabic, and there are many many slaves in the house, divided by sex. The term “harem rules” is mentioned several times. Men in the house are either “studs” or “tempered servants.” “Tempered,” as you can probably intuit without me explicitly saying so, means “neutered.” While this part may or may not have any root in any sort of Islamic custom, this next part certainly does:

The majority of women are known simply as “sluts,” or else “bedwarmers.”

This is where the main controversy surrounding the novel begins. And yes, yes, a thousand times yes, what I have written about is offensive. It’s horrible. It’s inhuman.

But is it impossible?

Has nothing like this ever happened before?

Does this sort of thing not happen today, in certain parts of the world?

(Are you familiar with the word “concubine”?)

But I suppose the main complaint about this novel is not that, believe it or not. And again, our Hugh does not approve of this situation. He finds it abhorrent. He has a “bedwarmer,” one who I believe is fourteen years old – yes, “ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh” – but he doesn’t do anything sexual with her.

And again, this is not the main point that is brought up against this novel, believe it or not. The main point brought up against it is that the people in charge – the “Chosen” – are all dark-skinned. The slaves are white.

The situation at the beginning of the novel – an upper-middle class white family with a black “houseboy” – is turned upon its head. At the end of the novel, the “houseboy,” by virtue of the color of his skin, is considered to be “Chosen,” and he gets all the privileges the other Chosen get.

Considering the disgusting misogynistic Islamic royalty-type setup of this situation, maybe it is racist, to a degree. Because for certain, other historical monarchies also once practiced sickening things like what happen in this weird future Islamofascist sci-fi scenario. Dark-skinned people are not the only ones who have perpetrated this sort of nonsense, historically speaking, and for it to be such a major plot issue…maybe it is a tad “racist.” But I don’t know; the setup of the house makes for some interesting plot points, points I will leave it up to you to find out about, should you choose to read the novel yourself.

But moving on, Hugh and Barbara – to remind, Barbara is Hugh’s daughter’s friend from college; for another spoiler, the six people at the beginning think they are the only people left in the world for a good part of the novel – become husband and wife at one point. And she gives birth to twins.

They – Hugh, Barbara, and their babies – make it out of the situation, eventually. Joe – who is the source of the “tit for tat” quoted in the title of this post – finds that he likes being the beneficiary of racial privilege. At first Hugh is shocked by this, but then realizes that he, too, despite his not being a bigot of any sort – or a misogynist, or any such thing – decides that he can’t really blame Joe for staying there.

Grace and Duke stay. They are, essentially, pets.


Reading back over this summary, I can see how this novel could be construed as wildly offensive, on a number of levels.

But I would like to remind everyone that it’s fiction. As in “not true.” As in “what if?”

At any rate, Hugh Farnham is not a bigot. Or a misogynist. And neither was Robert A. Heinlein – at least not from what I can tell of my limited reading of his work – and neither am I.

But all things considered, this novel was a good read. I enjoyed it, and I would recommend it to any fan of science fiction.

Thank you for reading my review of it.


And I have let about 36 hours go by, between when I wrote the above review and now. I reread my review of the novel in question, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to post that on my blog.

I am not a racist. I am not a misogynist.

And here I need to make a grammatical point:

“Racist” can be used as a noun, or as an adjective. I think you have to make “misogynist” into “misogynistic” for it to be an adjective, and what I am about to write applies to “misogynist/misogynistic” as well, but for simplicity’s sake, I am just going to focus on the word “racist.”

As a noun, “racist” means, basically, someone who adheres to the philosophy that one race is superior or inferior to another.


“Person A thinks that his skin color makes him superior to people of a different skin color. Person A is a racist.”

As an adjective, “racist” means, basically, expressing the philosophy that one race is superior or inferior to another.


Person A: “Everybody of my skin color is better than everybody of your skin color, Person B.”

Person B: “That’s racist, Person A. That statement you just made is racist.”

Many people like to make the argument that “people are racist, statements (and books, and any number of things) aren’t.”

And strictly speaking, that simply isn’t true. It is true that “Farnham’s Freehold” is not a racist. It is not a person who adheres to the philosophy that one race is superior or inferior to another race.

But, is it true that “Farnham’s Freehold” is a racist novel? Does this novel express the philosophy that one race is superior or inferior to another race?

I don’t really think so. I don’t personally perceive it as such. But does that mean that nobody in the world is entitled to disagree with me? Hardly.

I maintain that it was Heinlein’s intent to denounce racism with this novel. And from my point of view, I would say that he did a decent job of it.

But if you disagree, can I objectively say that you are wrong?

No, I cannot. Heinlein’s approach to racism in this novel was informed by his position in the society of 1960s America. He was a successful white dude*. And so was his protagonist, Hugh Farnham. As Joe (the African-American “houseboy”) mentions, Hugh never had the experience of riding a bus through Alabama as a “[n-word].”

And neither did Heinlein. Does Heinlein’s being a successful white dude mean he can’t be against racism? No! But, at the same time, he may or may not inadvertently have written things that could rightfully be described as “racist” by other people. Including other successful white dudes.

There are, indeed, racist statements made by white characters in the novel. And there are racist statements made by dark-skinned “Chosen” as well, in the imagined future where white people are their slaves. As I mentioned before, though, you can’t really denounce something like “racism” if you don’t show examples of it. And I would argue that’s what Heinlein was trying to do. Whether he succeeded is up to the reader.

I would argue that he succeeded. You may not agree.

At any rate, if you read this novel and are offended immensely by it, I would hope that your being offended would not cause you to label me as a “racist.” Or a “misogynist.”

I don’t consider myself to be either of those things, and I make a conscious effort not to express myself in such a way that may lead others to think I am one of those things.

But if I make a statement – or write a blog post – that makes you think I am a racist, or a misogynist, or any sort of thing like that that I do not consider myself to be, what matters more, objectively speaking:

My intentions behind my actions, which I consider to be anti-racist, anti-misogynist, anti-everything like that, or

Your perception of my actions?

My intentions matter more to me, of course, but don’t your perceptions matter more to you?

If I write something you construe to be racist, and you say “Hey, asshole, that’s racist,” does my saying “I didn’t mean to say something racist” mean that I didn’t say something racist?

No, it does not. Without intending to, in that situation, I would have made a racist statement. And I would have no right whatsoever to get angry at the person who perceived my statement as racist. The only rational course of action in that scenario, from my point of view, would be to say

“I am sorry I offended you. I didn’t mean to say anything racist, but now I know that what I said could be considered racist, so I will avoid saying that in the future.”

And if you are squirming in your seat, steam shooting out of your ears, with thoughts of “language police” and “political correctness gone mad” swirling through your brain, I am not requiring anyone else to follow my own personal approach to situations like this. I am merely telling you my approach. You are welcome to take it or leave it.

I follow that approach because it allows the lines of communication between me and that hypothetical person to remain open. I can continue to learn from that person through mutually respectful communication.

If I declare that they are crazy for calling me a racist (or whatever), I am cutting off the lines of communication.

And of course, if I don’t want to keep the lines of communication open between this hypothetical person and myself, I don’t have to. My perceptions of their behavior are as important to me as their perceptions of my behavior are to them.

Have I lost you? Have I circled back around to where I started, when I started writing this addendum to my review of a somewhat controversial sci-fi novel? Arguably.

But I would like to add one thing, then finish up:

My intentions, I would venture, are less important to you than your perception of me is to you. Am I incorrect?

I didn’t mean to come off as a racist or as a misogynist by giving this novel a positive review (despite all its abhorrent content), but if you feel I am a racist or a misogynist for doing so, how can I prove to you that my intentions were noble?

I can’t.

Thank you for reading.

*As an aside, please consider the inanity of this statement: “I think identity politics is a dumb concept.” Do you see what I mean? Every rationally thinking person in the world supports political ideas that support their own best interest, or at least what they perceive to be their own best interest. What they perceive as their own best interest is inexorably linked to their own personal identity. Therefore, everyone – yes, even you – is part of the phenomenon known as “identity politics.” You can point to special interest groups, which consist of people from this or that demographic, and scream “identity politics is the bane of society!” all you want, just be aware that when you do so, you are expressing your own “identity” in the political realm by doing so. So you may as well just keep that nonsense to yourself; there’s plenty of nonsense in the political realm already. (And yes, that last sentence is my own opinion, which hinges on my own “identity,” and so on and so forth.)


Hello, everbody, it’s me agin, Cousin Ronald. I just wanted to talk fer a minnit with you. I ain’t got long, seein as how I’m writin this on my lunch hour, and I got a big ol ham sammich waitin fer me that I got to eat, else I ain’t gonna be worth a dang all afternoon.

I want to share a little bit of wisdom I fount sevral years back, from a man name of Jimmy Swaggart. And I know, he done got in trouble fer messin around on his old lady years back, and librals and assorted Godless heathen types likes to point out thangs like that an persecute God-fearin’ Christian types, jes because they sinned in the past, them librals want to try and make like Jesus don’t fergive em.

Well, Jesus done fergive Jimmy Swaggart, and I have too. If you don’t fergive a man done got right with Jesus, well, I ain’t got much time fer you.

Jimmy Swaggart is a wise man, and a Godly man, but he ain’t nuthin but a man still, so he’s a gonna mess up from time to time. Like all of us does.

And anyways I’s wantin to share a bit of wisdom he writ sevral years ago, in a book whut he named “The United States, Israel & Islam.” It’s a right fine book, feller whut come to my church from down south Lousianna give it to me, one time here while back when he come and guest preached, when our reglar preacher was laid up sick with some kinda infection he pickt up on a Mission Trip to Tieland. I ain’t sure whut he had or how he got it, but I seen him up yonder at the farmacy, gettin some kind a medicine, and I swear that feller lookt like somebody done rung his bells with a steel toe boot, he was hunched over and limpin around so.

Probly some Muslim did it. Probly some terrorist mad cause our preacher was over yonder in Tieland, preachin the Gospel and tryin to rid that place of all the sinnin and vice over yonder. Our preacher talkt about all the Tie wimmen sellin thereself, and the Tie men dressin up like they’s wimmen and sellin thereself, and how perverts from round the hole world went to Tieland so’s to meet up with em and patrinize em.

And some Muslim didn’t like our preacher preachin aginst vice and sinnin, and so he kickt him right in the fambly jewls, and that’s how come he was hunched over limpin like he was, when I seent him at the farmacy that one time.

Lookt like it said “penicillin” on one of them bottles our preacher had, and all I can figure is that Muslim musta broke the skin and caused a infection. Them dang Muslims…they ain’t right. They just ain’t right.

But I don’t need to tell nobody that, they done seent whut happend over to Paris France the other day. They seent it. And some people (who shall remain nameless) tryed to tell me that them attacks was at least parshally do to whut America done did in the Mid East.

It wern’t no suprise to me, no sir. Them librals said the same thang years ago, said invadin Iraq was gonna cause more trouble in the Mid East, and they was wrong then and they is wrong now. Just cause we took apart the Iraq army and replaced em with civillians, and just cause them civillians turnt tail and run at the first sign a trouble, leavin there guns and equipmint on the ground, librals is tryin to say that ISIS is George W. Bush’s fault!

Can you beleive that? How they gone blame Bush, when Bush was the one whut sent the hole Iraq army packin? Just cause they come back a while later and stole the guns Bush give the new Iraq army? Just cause ISIS is led by former Iraq army guys?

Them librals is crazy! Crazy, I tell you! There ain’t but one reason fer ISIS, and that reason is ISLAM! There ain’t no other reason!

Tryin to blame Bush, just cause ISIS is shootin people with guns Bush left in Iraq with a buncha cowards whut turnt tail and run!

It ain’t Bush’s fault!

But hell, I could go on all day, and I ain’t got all day. I got more importint thangs to do than sit round playin on the compruter. For one, eat my ham sammich, which Muslims say I ain’t suppost to do.

I like ham! Take that, Muslims!

So anyways here’s them words of wisdom what Jimmy Swaggart wrote. My libral cousin – my libral DISTANT cousin – said this sounded a lot like some athiest fellow name of Sam Harris, but I don’t see how no athiest could be as smart as Jimmy Swaggart. And anyways who cares what a durn athiest thanks, anyway.

Here’s whut Jimmy Swaggart writ:

“That policy consists of the idea, grossly erroneous I might quickly add, that the religion of Islam is peaceable and righteous, and that it has been hijacked by a few fanatics. Nothing could be further from the Truth. As we have stated elsewhere in this Volume, the religion if Islam is based entirely upon the Koran. To be sure, the Koran advocates terrorism, and even the slaughter of untold millions if necessary to further the cause of this religion. While all Muslims aren’t murderers, still, all Muslims belong to a religion that strongly advocates wholesale murder, all in the name of Allah. As well, this wholesale murder includes mostly innocent victims.”

Jimmy Swaggart said that much more clearer than I coulda. He is a very inteligint man.

My distant cousin says if you take away all the Bible stuff Jimmy Swaggart says, Jimmy Swaggart sounds a lot like a durn heathen athiest.

Well, if that’s so, I ain’t gonna pay no tension to it. I don’t listen to nuthin no athiest says. And I don’t reckon no athiest pays no tension to what people like me says, neither.

Anyways I hope you all have a blessed day.


I suppose that this post should, technically, be classified under a category called “History” or something, but seeing as how I almost have as many different categories here on my blog as I do blog posts, I will sneak in a little bit of my own personal philosophy (which, of course, consists mainly of philosophies I have borrowed from other people) and post it under “philosophy.” Sounds good to me.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I am, whenever possible, anti-war. I do not attempt to deny this fact. I believe war should be a last resort, only after all diplomatic avenues have failed, only after economic sanctions have failed, only when there is no other viable option.

Some people mistake this position to mean that I am “anti-soldier” or that I “don’t support the troops.” Again, anyone who knows me at all should know that this interpretation of my position regarding war is utterly false.

I am anti-war because I support the troops. I don’t want to see American service men and women put in harm’s way unless there is no other option.

But this blog post is not being written so that I might brag about how “progressive” or “compassionate” or whatever that I think I am by virtue of my stance regarding war. I am here today to tell a story about a man – a veteran – who had a very positive influence on my life.

His name was John Dollar. He served in the U.S. Navy a few decades before I was ever born.

When I was a kid, from the time I was still in diapers until I was around 13, while my mom and stepdad were at work, I would stay with “Uncle John” and his wife, Kathryn, or as pretty much everyone called her, “Aunt Kat.”

Aunt Kat and Uncle John (both have now passed on) never had any children of their own. But they loved children, and they were both excellent role models (and play companions) for children. I would venture that nobody who grew up in my small community of Lawson, Arkansas since Aunt Kat and Uncle John settled here will deny this. They took my mom and uncle on trips when they were younger. They also took me and my brother on trips a few times. I have more fond memories of my time with them than I can even count.

But again, that’s not specifically what I am here to write about today. Although I suppose I should mention that in addition to being an excellent role model, playmate, confidante, and any number of such things, Aunt Kat was also an excellent cook.

And I do mean excellent. None of us kids who stayed with her ever went hungry. Never. And long after she was no longer able to keep kids, she continued to cook beans and cornbread, turnip greens, or stew, or her famous spaghetti – there has never been any better spaghetti made by anyone, anywhere – and give most of it away to people in the community. Toward the end of her life, she would stand over a hot stove all day, just to be able to spread a little happiness around the community, even though it was very difficult for her to get in and out of her car by this point. “Kat, you didn’t have to do that!” was said often by my mom (and I am sure by several other people), after Aunt Kat pulled up in our driveway and honked her horn, signaling that we should come out and get the food she had brought us, because it was very hard for her to get out of her car and bring it to us.

And we always expressed that she didn’t have to do that, but we were always glad that she did.

But going back to my childhood, I can remember clearly sitting at the dining table in the kitchen with my brother or any number of kids who stayed with the Dollars over the years, eating delicious, home-cooked meals. And I remember something else food-related that pertains to Uncle John specifically: Uncle John would not eat rice.

Not only would Uncle John not eat rice, Uncle John did not like to be in the same room where rice was being eaten or even cooked. He despised the stuff. As in truly and deeply hated it.

Yes, rice, those little white grains that go with pretty much everything and don’t have a whole lot of flavor by themselves. Uncle John hated rice. I am not exaggerating; the man would not sit in the same room with it. He would get up and go outside.

I didn’t really understand why that was until many years later. I had heard abbreviated versions of the story I am about to relate, but never the full version. Aunt Kat told it to me several years after Uncle John had already passed away.

Before I write anything at all about this story, I want to stress that I am not trying to rile anyone up about anything. What takes place in this story took place during wartime. Specifically when the United States and Japan were not on friendly terms like they are today.

I have been to Japan. I spent about a week there in 2007. I hope to be able to go there again someday. It is an incredibly interesting place, and one week is not nearly enough time to even begin appreciating the place.

So if anyone comes away from this blog post with a negative attitude about Japan, please understand that this was not my intention. I am merely relating a story that was told to me, a story that took place when the United States and Japan were not on friendly terms.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not even sure what year this story occurred in, or precisely where it took place. I pressed Aunt Kat for details, but she didn’t remember exactly.

My guess is that this story took place some time around the end of World War II, most likely before the end but possibly a little after. I simply don’t know for sure.

I do know that Aunt Kat and Uncle John spent a decent amount of time living in the Philippines, while Uncle John was stationed there. But again, I don’t know exactly how long they were there, or what years they were there.

At any rate, here is the story Aunt Kat told me, with regard to why Uncle John could not stand to be in the same room as rice:

One day, while Uncle John was stationed “overseas” (I am assuming in the Philippines, but as I said, I don’t know for sure) he left the base, intending to see the sights, I suppose. Without realizing it, he wandered into enemy territory, the enemy at the time being Japan. He was captured by Japanese troops and taken to a prison work camp.

At the camp, Uncle John and many other captured soldiers were forced to work insanely long hours – as long as the sun was out, I think – and they were given very little to eat or drink.

All they were given each day, according to Aunt Kat, was a single cup of tea, and what I believe she called a “cord” of rice. She used some term like that I hadn’t heard before; at any rate they were only given a small bowl of rice to eat each day.

And it wasn’t simply the rice, in and of itself, that Uncle John refused to be around later in life. It was what the rice reminded him of.

And it wasn’t merely working out in the hot sun all day with very little food and drink. It was also being forced to do so at gunpoint. It was also watching other men starve to death, collapse from exhaustion, or be shot by guards.

Uncle John was at that camp for quite a while. When I knew him, he was a fairly stocky man – in decent physical shape, but stocky, sort of like I am now – probably around 180 to 200 pounds. I am guessing.

When he was finally released from the prison camp, he weighed around a hundred pounds, I was told.

I don’t know for sure how long he was there. But he was there long enough to see many more young men come in, many of whom he also saw die there.

Uncle John gave the new prisoners advice about things – how to avoid angering the guards, how to ration a single bowl of rice to make it last all day, things like that – but many of them wouldn’t listen. They would gobble all their rice up as soon as it was given to them, and would find themselves starving and without food later in the day, while Uncle John and others still had a bite or two left.

And, of course, many of them simply cracked under pressure, did something to anger a guard, and were shot.

And again, my writing this is to honor Uncle John, not to denigrate Japan or the Japanese people. If you don’t (or can’t) understand the distinction, I would ask that you stop reading before I continue. As acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa once said, in defense of his film “Rhapsody In August,” one that concerns the long-term psychological effects of the atomic bomb being dropped on Nagasaki, “Governments wage wars, not people.” I fully agree with him. If circumstances had been different, if their respective governments had not set them at odds with each other, the men holding the guns in the prison camp and the men being worked to death might have been friends. But I am digressing. At any rate, I am not trying to make anyone dislike Japan or its people, so please don’t assume I am. I am merely relating a bit of history, as it was told to me. Just as Kurosawa was relating a bit of history in his film “Rhapsody In August,” which incidentally is a fantastic film that anyone reading this should watch. It has been called a “propaganda” film by certain American critics; I find that accusation to be beyond absurd.

But moving on, in the prison camp, there was a large, open work area. The prisoners planted crops, or dug ditches, or tended various livestock, or did any number of physically exhausting activities. And let me remind you they were only given a single cup of tea to drink all day.

And let me also remind you that tea contains caffeine, which is a diuretic. Which means it makes you pee. Which means it dehydrates you.

In the middle of the work area was a water fountain. All day, as the prisoners worked in the blazing sun, the fountain spurted water into the air. The water fell into a pool around the fountain, splashing tantalizingly, then was recirculated through the fountain, up into the air, and so on, all day long.

The prisoners were strictly forbidden to drink from this fountain, or even to go anywhere near it. Uncle John saw men who simply could not resist – could not bear the psychological pressure any longer – drop their shovel or rake or whichever tool they had in hand and run toward the fountain.

Uncle John saw these men get shot. Uncle John saw their bodies being dragged away.

Uncle John tried to warn newcomers about things like this. Some listened. Some didn’t.

I had heard abbreviated versions of what I have written several times in my life, mostly from Aunt Kat, while Uncle John was still living. But one day, several years ago, after Uncle John had died, but still several years before Aunt Kat did, she told me the whole story again, along with one other anecdote, one that almost got Uncle John killed.

One of Uncle John’s friends in the camp tended chickens as part of his work load. One day, after they both had been there for quite a while, they devised a plan, one that almost worked, to have roasted chicken for dinner one night, instead of a bite or two of rice.

The friend who tended chickens managed to steal one without being noticed. He stuffed it under his clothing, killed it, and hid it in the outhouse the prisoners used.

Somehow, Uncle John, his friend, and a few other of the men in his bunkhouse (or whatever it was called) were also able to obtain matches, or at any rate some method of starting a fire.

This is a detail I have forgotten. I am kicking myself for not writing all this down nine years ago, when Aunt Kat told me the story.

Anyways, one by one, with the guards’ permission, Uncle John and his friends went to the outhouse. One by one, just a little at a time, they took turns cooking the chicken on the outhouse floor, careful to put the fire out and hide the chicken each time.

Someone from the bunkhouse was always keeping watch, in case a guard got wise to what they were doing. They had an agreed-upon signal, and if a guard started toward the outhouse, someone would give the signal.

Over the course of a night, Uncle John and the other men in on the scheme took their turns roasting the chicken, bit by bit.

Uncle John told Aunt Kat that after the chicken began to almost get done, it was the best-smelling chicken he had ever smelled in his life, despite its close proximity to an open hole full of excrement and urine.

Unfortunately, Uncle John never got to taste that chicken, and neither did any of the other men. Just as the chicken was beginning to almost be edible, a guard noticed the smell, or maybe saw smoke. I think it was smoke.

At any rate, the guard noticed that something fishy was going on and started toward the outhouse. The man on watch saw him and gave the signal, and the man in the outhouse tossed the half-roasted chicken into the shit pit.

The guard found nothing out of the ordinary in the outhouse, and nobody was punished.

But nobody got to eat any chicken, either.

And Uncle John swore off rice the moment he was released from that prison camp. And as far as I know, he never touched another grain of rice as long as he lived.

He loved chicken, though.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for serving, if you happen to be a veteran.