“How about telling me what the Ku Klux Klan stands for?”
It was as if he had been waiting for me to ask.
“The Ku Klux Klan stands for peace, for harmony, and for freedom.”
I suppose I was not as ready for his answer as he was in giving it. I was an educated man and he had not even finished high school. But he was extremely bright and had read a lot. I thought I would play a little Socratic game with him so I asked, “And what do you mean by peace, harmony, and freedom?”
“I just mean peace, harmony, and freedom. Those three words. If you don’t know what they mean go look them up. There’s a dictionary if you want one.”
The dialogue was proceeding to my satisfaction. “In other words, you define the words. You don’t ask others you may not like to define them.”
“Of course I define the words. Who defines the words you use. When you use them they’re your words and you know what they mean.” He meant, I suppose, what I should have known already- that words are symbols and nothing more. Ever. But I still felt we were moving where I wanted to go. “Okay. Your organization stands for peace, harmony and freedom. You define the words. Now one more question. What means are you willing to use to accomplish those glorious ends?”
“Oh. Now I see what you’re getting at. The means we are willing to use are as follows: murder, torture, threats, blackmail, intimidation, burning, guerrilla
warfare. Whatever it takes.”
And then he stopped. And I stopped. I knew that I had set a little trap for him and I cleverly let him snap the trigger. But then he started again. “Now, Preacher. Let me ask you a question. You tell me what we stand for in Vietnam.”
Suddenly I knew a lot of things I had not know before. I knew that I had been caught in my own trap. Suddenly I knew that we are a nation of Klansmen. I knew that as a nation we stood for peace, harmony and freedom in that war, that we defined the words, and that the means we were employing to accomplish those ends were identical with the ones that he had listed.

Will D. Campbell, Brother to a Dragonfly, 1979

 

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