Winning Hearts and Minds

I went to college in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb north of Chicago, about 35 years ago. Recent events have gotten me thinking about those days again.

It was the Vietnam war era, but before the protests had began.

Summers I had odd jobs, in all senses of that word. Worked in a warehouse. Delivered pizzas. Sold insurance. Restocked cigarette machines.

I think even then I was philosophically opposed to smoking, but I needed the money. Answered an ad posted at the school job office. ("Do you have a driver's license? You've got the job.") It paid good money -- $2.00 or $2.50 an hour, I can't remember exactly. It was great pay in those days. I substituted for route drivers on the south side of Chicago while they were on their summer vacations.

I think the price of a cigarette pack out of the machines was 35 cents at the time. Seemed like an awful lot to pay for 20 butts. Got in a knife fight trying to protect the money I had hauled out of the machine at one of the stops. It was pretty one-sided since I didn't have a knife but the other guy did. He got the loot and no permanent damage was done.



Mornings on the way to work I listened to WCFL on the car radio. They had a morning show before the "morning show" was invented. It starred Dick Orkin, and some other personalities. They had a running series called "Chickenman." (CHICKEN MAAAAANNNN!!!!!) Dick starred as the feathered friend, alter ego of Benton Harbor, who fought crime all over the greater Chicago metro area. It was hilarious and I loved it.

Twenty years later, while I was running ADWEEK, I heard that voice on the radio again in very funny commercials for a variety of advertisers. Turns out Dick had gone on to open Dick Orkin's Radio Ranch and Home For Wayward Cowboys in Los Angeles. At ADWEEK, we hired Dick to do some great radio spots that styled us as the friendly up and coming alternative to the lugubriousness of Advertising Age. They worked brilliantly and helped us to grow rapidly during the middle 80s.

Dick is still plying the trade ( and you can hear that great voice and loopy sense of humor for recent clients such as Kraft, Boston Market and Southwest Bank. Radio has enjoyed a lot of growth recently after many years as the sort-of forgotten medium. We are reminded of its power again in the past six months as we reach for the dial to keep up to date with events in the desert half a world away.

Small wars in distant lands come and go, always unfortunate and often tragic for the participants. In terms of the progress of humanity, however, we seem to do no permanent damage from our missteps. Last fall my wife and I traveled to Vietnam and, even after the almost 6,000,000 of their countrymen who were killed in that civil war (and the 50,000 U.S. Soldiers) and even though they are a communist society still, which is what we were fighting to prevent, the people could not have been more friendly to us and more eager to do business. They just want to be part of the world community and the global economy and, like every other country in the world, sell the products they grow and manufacture to Marketplace America.

Enemies who can do us harm come and go as well. The current terrorists look puny by comparison with prior foes. For most of my life, we lived with a fear of communism and the knowledge that the Soviet Union could annihilate us from a distance at any moment of their choosing. Now they are both gone and not by force of arms at all but by decay from within.

I find it ironic that we lost the Vietnam war and the Vietnamese have ended up our trading partners. Now that we've won the Iraq war, what is going to happen to us and them? According to the latest Newsweek poll, half of the American public already wants us to reduce our troop and monetary commitments. This at a time when almost every informed observer says we have substantially too little of both committed to the task.

Will we be mired in Iraq for a decade as some talking heads and politicians are now saying? Or, will we cut and run because we get tired, bored or scared? I do not know. But, one thing is certain, Iraqis, Vietnamese and all other people want the same things: safety for their families and the chance to earn a decent and honorable living. That means societies and economies organized the Western way. Sooner or later that system will come to the people of Iraq and other 3rd world countries as well, just like it's in the process of coming to every one of our mortal enemies of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Next story loading loading..