Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sundays with Steve - The 1967 War

These Sunday's segments are written by my husband, Mr. Jenny. Here's what he has to say about his posts:

I’ve been writing these weekly stories about life in Northern Idaho, as a youngster and as growing into a young man, primarily for our family. And I'm delighted to share them with you. Just between us, I’m anticipating being cranky when some whipper-snapper who may not even be born yet harasses me in 30 years or so with 'Grandpa, tell me about when you were a boy.' That will probably be after the mad cow disease has set in and erased whatever memory is left. So these are the not-so-dramatic adventures of a Baby Boomer in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

The 1967 War

“It is an insult! An insult I tell you, an affront to the civilized world, a world that you and your people have never known, and will never know!”

Dr. Fouad’s eyes were blazing, sweat on his brow, his fist pounding the table in a rage, shouting at the Jewish professor.

“You are insane,” cried the Jew, “We have kicked you back to Egypt where you and your Russian dogs belong, don’t you dare intrude into our lands again!”

I was sitting between those two madmen, astounded, and ducking their verbal jabs. I wondered if Col. Fouad had experience at torture. I wondered if his target had been a member of the Israeli Mossad.

This battle had been going on for years, and then with me now in the middle, it would continue for another year.

The Thursday night fights as I called them, in this corner Dr. Mahmoud Fouad, a former Egyptian Army Colonel, and opposing him, Dr. Robert Lang, defending his religion and the existence of the state of Israel to his last conscious breath. In the middle, me, a college sophomore, wondering what I was doing sitting with my macro economics professor on one side, and my media law professor on the other.

I had connected with both professors that year, engaging each in the exploration of their expertise, Fouad in economics, Lang in media. Both were bachelors at that time, both taught at Idaho State University, both were quite outspoken, and both maybe a touch nuts.

It was spring 1969, the United Nations was forcing Israel to give up lands in the Sinai Peninsula that it had taken from Egypt in the 1967 war. Fouad was ecstatic, Lang besides himself.

“The Egyptian army couldn’t fight its way out of a paper bag,” nagged Lang. “The Isrealies couldn’t find sand in the desert without the help of the Americans,” taunted Fouad, right back at him.

They re-fought the 1967 war almost every Thursday night at Buddy’s, a good Italian restaurant that mostly severed beer to college students from the university that just was just couple of blocks away.

That spring both professors invited me to join them for beer, diner, and war. I did. It was just that, copious amounts of beer, some excellent dinner, and a long, drawn out war, mostly in that order. I noticed, as a bright young journalism student that I was, that the more beer my professors consumed, the more vicious the war became, and the more heated the battles were fought at that table in Buddy’s.

These were the epic battles of best friends, friends who thought their representative countries were both wrong and silly to pursue each other. The friends were intelligent, educated men who understood the history and cultures of those complex lands, and who struggled in frustration to understand the nature of Middle East politics of the late 1960s.

I joined in fighting the wars with them every few weeks for the next year, or it would be more accurate to say, that I joined them as an impartial observer, and dispenser of their beers that they consumed by the gallon. The next spring the wars ended for a while, after Dr. Lang called me at my apartment one Friday morning, the morning of the final exam for one of his classes, asking me to tell the other students in the class that final exam was dismissed, that he was ill and wasn’t coming in, and to have a good summer.

The two professors had invited me to travel to Europe with them that summer, but I reluctantly declined. I did not plan to return to Pocatello for school that fall, and I attended a different university the next year.

I was at the family home in North Idaho late that summer when the telephone rang one evening, and to my surprise, it was Dr. Lang. I believe he and Dr. Fouad had been in the beer at Buddy’s, again: “Mr. Matlock, I need your help,” he slurred. “I have been relieved of my position at the University, they said I have skipped too many classes over the last several years. Could you talk to your cousin on my behalf?”

My cousin on was the state board that over-saw public colleges and universities. He happened to be sitting in the kitchen with me and my family that evening when the telephone call came in. “Sure, I replied, I’ll call you in a day or two.” We did discuss that strange call, but only briefly.

I visited Dr. Lang two years later in Santa Maria, Calif. where he was teaching at a small college after having been dismissed in Idaho. I went to his apartment, a place that smelled strongly of cooking garlic, as did his last apartment in Pocatello. We shared a beer. Then he had another. (I really didn’t like beer then, and I still don’t, 40 years later.)

The telephone rang.

“Really, you Jews have to get out of the Golan Heights before you are wiped off the face of the Earth,” yelled Dr. Fouad over the telephone, “You are going to start a nuclear war between the Russian dogs and the Americans, but you are the people who are going to lose.”

“Never!” shouted Lang, “You Egyptian Arabs are the bane of our existence!”

The war continued.

(c) 2010 Stephen J. Matlock
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Pondside said...

They sound like the best kind of friends - or maybe like my grandmother and her sister - different topic, same energy.

Judie said...

This is a good example of how, in years past, good friends could have political differences and still remain friends. I am afraid that that time in America has disappeared for ever. I have to be ever so careful when I am at my golf club, and someone begins spouting political views with which I do not agree. In the last decade, friendships have been lost forever over politics. So sad!

Ms. A said...

You mean people could have such heated political differences and remain friends? Amazing!

Pat Tillett said...

Funny and very interesting. The heat of their disagreement speaks to the root of many wars in our world (well, that and beer!). Anthoer great post!