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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Facing Up and Facing Down

Mr. Henry DeYoung, a short rotund man with a round face surmounted by a fringe of grey hair, was our high school principal.  I did not much like Mr. DeYoung.  He smirked rather than smiled and I always had a feeling that he was partial to the more affluent eastsiders and rather looked down on us who came from the west side over toward the railroad tracks.  Whenever I was dealing with student affairs, I always preferred to go to Mr. W. H. Conover, the vice-principal.  Mr. Conover was a tall, friendly Irishman who showed no favoritism and always listened closely to what a student had to say.
Looking at Elaine’s upset face, I had a sudden sinking feeling in my stomach that maybe I had overstepped, but I airly brushed aside her rapid-fire comments.  “Aw, you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.  Every word of it is true, isn’t it?”
“Yes, the truth as YOU see it!  I might agree with you, but the fact remains that it is downright warmongering and you know how a lot of people feel about that these days.”
“Well,” I said defensively, “that is what editorial opinions are all about, isn’t it?  After all, The Log is a school newspaper.  It isn’t as if I had put it in the Columbian or the Portland Oregonian.”
Elaine shook her head.  “Maybe so, but you can bet your life you haven’t heard the last of it!  I’m late for class.  I have to go.”
I watched her march away down the hall.  The more I thought about it, the more I knew she was right.  I slowly walked down to the Journalism room to see Miss Hurd.  She scolded me severely but I got the idea that she agreed with my editorial.  She upbraided me for not having turned the copy in for approval on time, but she seemed to understand my wanting to make the deadline.  She finished by saying, “Mr. DeYoung would like to see you in his office right away.”
Elaine had been absolutely correct.  DeYoung was fit to be tied.  He scowled at me and tapped a yellow pencil on the paper.  I do not recall and cannot reconstruct the details of his tirade, but at times he was nearly apoplectic.  He ended by stating flatly that he had every right to suspend me from school.
My heart sank.  If he did that, all my plans about the Naval Academy were right down the drain.  I was determined, however, and never dropped my eyes from him.  When I finally had an opportunity, I squared my shoulders and pulled myself up to my full height.
“Mr. DeYoung, I am entitled to my opinions.  That is what editorial are all about.  A good editor does not write what the reader wants to hear—he writes the truth as he sees it.  That is what I have been taught in Journalism class.  If you and I have different opinions, that’s all right because (and here I was quoting my old Ozark teacher J. B. Mitchell) if it were not for differences of opinions, there would be no horse races!”
There was a prolonged silence while DeYoung looked down at the paper and continued his infernal tapping with that yellow pencil.  Finally, he looked up at me and his stormy face cleared somewhat.
“Well, Conrad, you have spirit—I’ll give you that.  My concern is simply that some of the parents and other who read The Log may think we are using it for rabble-rousing in favor of war.  We do not want war, and we should do everything we can to promote lasting peace in the world—even if it does include appeasement sometimes.”
At that time, I threw caution to the winds.  I did not care if he expelled me.  I had taken a stand that I believed in and I would defend it because I felt very strongly about it.  I would not compromise my principles.  That is the way I had been raised.  I wondered briefly to myself if DeYoung contributed to the German-American Bund that we read about and saw marching in newsreels, but I had the good sense to keep my mouth shut about that, at least.
“Sire,” I said, “I agree with you that we want peace in the world, but it is my opinion that the only way we are going to have lasting peace is to stop Shicklegruber.  Hitler is trying to start the World War all over again and no little piece of paper is going to stop him regardless of what Mr. Chamberlain says.  I do not want to go out and get shot at or for anyone else to have to do that, but the only way to stop a madman dictator is with force!”
I waited resignedly for the blow to fall.  The principal was silent again for what seemed a long time, staring at the paper on his desk.  When he finally looked up, his voice had become much more mild.
“Well, Conrad, I am not going to sit here and debate world policy with you.  You have made some good points, but the fact remains that you published your little tirade without getting faculty approval form either Miss Hurd or Mr. Miller.  If you ever do that again, I guarantee that you will not graduate with your class.”  He folded the paper and pushed it aside.  “You can go now, but consider yourself on probation.”
I was so flooded with relief that I simply stared at DeYoung for a few seconds.  Then, with a “thank you, sir” I wheeled and marched out the door without looking back.  As I went in search of Elaine to tell her what had happened, I felt I had really dodged a bullet.

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