L. Neil Smith's
Number 260, February 22, 2004

Better late than never

Education of a libertarian
by Ron Beatty

Exclusive to TLE

I was thinking the other day, and realized that it might be interesting to examine just how I got to this point in my life. How did a basically rightwing, Catholic, patriotic boy become a libertarian, pagan, advocate of free thinking and small government?

I suppose my education really began in 1967. At that point, we had just moved to the Phillipines, I was 9 years old, and I discovered Robert A. Heinlein. Up to this point, most of my childhood reading had been limited to the Hardy Boys, the Spindrift Island mysteries, the Tom Swift stories, and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels, along with others of that type.

In January of 1967, basically alone in a strange land, I was wandering through the Subic Bay Naval Base Main Library when I came across an orange colored book with an outlandish picture of two space-suited boys on the front. I was curious, so I checked it out, even though I thought that I probably wouldn't like it. The title of that book was Red Planet, and the author, Robert A. Heinlein, had just performed his miracle of opening the mind of a scared, lonely boy. Needless to say, I had soon checked out all of the available Heinlein books, reading them over and over again. I soon finished all the juvenile books, and moved to the "young adult" section, devouring Farnham's Freehold and Glory Road. At that point, I wasn't allowed to read Stranger in a Strange Land, it being on the restricted adult list.

All of this was miraculous to a boy in an alien culture, who saw things everyday that were totally outside his own world view. We lived off-base, in the town of Olongapo, and had to deal with a major culture shock from the time we arrived in the Phillipines. We had gone from the modern, "safe", US of A to a relatively primitive culture. Pigs wandered the street, often laying down and blocking streets and drives. Little children up to about the age of five or six, wore only t-shirts, and often just squatted in the streets to relieve themselves. Americans were considered to be rich exploiters by many (even though it had not reached the levels that would later lead to the closing of all US bases in the Phillipines). I suppose that you could say that Heinlein was my escape from a strange and terrible world.

This is not to say that it was all bad. It wasn't. We did make friends among the locals, and it was this fact that saved my life one night in the fall of 1967. Mom and Dad had gone on base for the night, leaving my brother and I alone in our apartment. I don't remember what had come up, but I do remember that about 9 o'clock, all Hell broke loose!

Our apartment was the one toward the street in the small, walled compound where eight American families lived. There was a concrete block wall, topped with broken glass, and a metal gate, which was often open, up to that time. About nine, a hellstorm of gunfire broke out. We hadn't known it, but the house right next to our compound was owned by one of the major gang leaders in the city, and that night, one of his rivals had ordered a "hit" on him. Bullets were striking the compound walls, with some even hitting the water tower, which stood a good thirty feet high. The old Filipina lady from across the street, who Dad had asked to keep an eye on us, saw that the gangs were getting wilder and wilder with their gunfire, and came to get us out, risking her own life to do so. She grabbed us, and we ran across the street during a lull in the firing. One of the gang members saw us, and cut loose with a Thompson. We ran harder, and dove into the protection of a concrete wall, huddling down in it's dubious cover until the arrival of the Olongapo Police in a jeep with a Browning .50 cal. MG on it. It wasn't until later that I felt the blood running down my leg, and saw that I had been hit. Fortunately, it was only a fragment of a bullet, not a direct hit, or I might have lost my leg.

Only a few weeks later, two of the few childhood friends I had made were killed, one by HUK guerrillas, the other by a careless driver of a jitney.

Shortly after that, we moved on base, and life was much safer, but the damage had been done. An impressionable boy had seen, first-hand, that life was not safe, and that no government could make it safe, since even on-base life had it's hazards, including traffic, crashing airplanes (my Dad got his second Bronze Star the day a plane crashed into the magazines at Subic Bay), snakes, etc.

Coming back to the states was another huge culture shock for me. For the first time in my life, I was going to a school that was not either a Catholic school or a military base school. I was exposed to even more new ideas and ways of thinking, and most of the time, I had no one to ask about it. My Dad was overseas most of the time, I didn't feel right asking my Mom, and I was always the "new kid", so I didn't feel comfortable asking anyone else. I turned back to my old friend, Heinlein, who about this time came out with "I Will Fear No Evil". The terrible scenes of gangs, shootings, an unsafe environment for all but those able to fight back echoed the reality I saw around me, since at this time, the anti-war protests were very common.

Finally, in 1974 and 1975, I ran into the police state mentality and political correctness (even though it wasn't called that, then) on a personal level.

In 1974, my Dad had an aneurism, and fell down the basement stairs, giving himself a nasty head wound. I woke up, and kept him down and still until my Mom, the cops, and the squad arrived. Because he was disoriented and they smelled the one beer he had had that night on his breath, the cops handcuffed him and took him to the police station before he was taken to the hospital. Before the night was over, Dad had been taken into surgery and had half of his brain removed, destroying his short term memory, blinding him in one eye, and forever changing the good man I had loved (and still do). For the rest of his life, he often couldn't even remember my name, knowing who I was, but not able to recall that one simple fact. I can't help but wonder how much the delay and the police bureaucracy contributed to that.

In 1975, I began my adult life, and quickly ran afoul of government stupidity again. I was old enough to be in the service, but not old enough to be a police officer. I had wanted to correct the wrongs I saw in the police establishment over the years, and planned to work within the system. No dice. Well, I figured, I'll go into security until I am old enough to be a cop. I did, and did very well at it, to the point of being selected for both a strike team and a nuclear response team, being called out each time there was a security problem at a nuclear power plant in our area of responsibility. Having a good record, I figured this would help me when it became time to apply for police officer positions. Wrong again!

It seems that because I had always loved guns, I was suspect, at least to the minds of the cops. I had been on the rifle team in high school, and when I discovered combat shooting as part of the nuclear training, I had become involved in that, becoming a bit better than average at it. My personal weapon had Hogue combat grips on it, and because I was a good shot, and had "modified" my weapon, I was a danger to society, too dangerous to be a police officer. I was told this, to my face, by the officer in charge of final selection of police recruits. This same officer, by the way, once shot up his office because someone knew he hated chickens, and put one in it. He cut loose, emptying his weapon, sending blood, guts, and feathers all over the place. This caused a major incident, which was covered up, because of his "political" connections. (I wonder who would have done that to this fine, upstanding public servant? WEG) He later became a political figure in the county.

I later did become an officer for another department, but I couldn't take the politics, the quotas, the political favoritism, and finally left. I stayed in security for years, until injuries made me a liability on the response teams, then finally got out altogether.

When you get right down to it, you can say that the government itself is causing it's own nightmares. The actions of the power hungry, at all levels of government, are causing a reaction. In turn, this fuels the paranoia of those in power, who make another law, which causes another reaction, etc. You have to wonder at the level of fear and insecurity of the Kennedy's, the Shumer's, the Lautenberg's, etc. What are they doing that they are so afraid of the people about?

I guess you could say that Heinlein began my education, by forcing me to think, and government completed it, by showing me what to think about and to fear. It's funny. Goverment, by it's own actions, is causing the thing that it fears the most, a populace that is becoming tired of government!

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to return to The Libertarian Enterprise, Number 260, February 22, 2004