Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Obama Awards Harvey Milk Medal of Freedom

I haven't got anything against Harvey Milk. The former San Francisco Town Council member sure didn't deserve to die of gunshot wounds. The mayor, George Moscone and Harvey Milk were shot down by an enraged Vietnam veteran named Dan White.

But in awarding the Medal of Freedom to Mr. Milk, Barack Obama seemed to have watched the Shawn Penn movie or listened to the public TV version that characteried Harvey Milk as a hero and martyr. It's true that Harvey Milk was possessed of great political skill and did a great deal to promote gay rights, but the martyr part bugs me out. Harvey Milk wasn't killed because he was a gay man. In fact, he and Dan White were, for a while, quite friendly. White was a hero of sorts, at least as much a hero as was Harvey Milk. Perhaps more--he was a decorated Vietnam vet and well-liked until he began that slipping-down life.

Frankly, there was a great deal of political intrigue in the city council of San Francisco at the time. I'd tell you how I know but you wouldn't believe me. Anyway, it's mostly a matter of record for those who would care to look. Dan White was on the city council, resigned for a week, and then wanted his job back. Moscone acceded to his request but Harvey Milk saw the chance to appoint another more liberal city council member to take White's place.

Dan White was having problems, personally and financially, as were many Vietnam veterans of that era. But he was a good council member,much liked by everyone, a common man who got along with anyone. But he didn't understand the "sophisticated" power politics of the gay community and liberal society in San Francisco. He wasn't long out of the war. He should have been able to handle it but he wasn't. Mayor Moscone was persuaded by Harvey Milk that Dan White should go. That's when he snapped, slipping into Harvey Milk's office and George Moscone's--shooting them dead.

I called Dan White's home that day, then I called Moscone's office. The place was wild, chaotic, cacaphonic. I talked to a woman, probably an aide, in Moscone's office while he lay dead on the floor, and there was much screaming, and then she also had to hang up and move on.

I'm okay with Harvey Milk being honored for he didn't deserve to die. But there were no heroes and no villains in that business or they were all one and the same.

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