Dawkins was first posted to Vietnam in 1965. "We found out in '63 that Pete would have to go two years later," Mrs. Dawkins says, "but that didn't bother me at all, because of course I was perfectly sure that the war would be over by then, by 1965." She shrugs, smiling at the innocence of the time, not the irony.
Though the children are too young to know much, or care, about their father's profession, the Dawkinses have experienced something of the alienation the war has brought to many American families. Dawkins has an older brother Dale, who is an automobile executive; he also has a younger sister Sue, who is a full 10 years his junior, and an even younger brother Mike, now 18.
Mike was only five when Pete had his 1958, and he would toddle about in a sweater with a big, proud Army "A." But as Mike and his sister grew and the war wore on, they more often came to look upon their older brothers not as model successes but as the personification of the military-industrial complex, infiltrating their very family.
"One effect of the tragedy of Vietnam," Dawkins says, "was that the Army was profoundly baffled by the attitudes developing toward it. We didn't understand why we were blamed. The vast majority of soldiers, of lifers, viewed the war with no joy. Just a sense of responsibility.
"Guys picked up and left their families simply because events had occurred and their duty was advanced. Somehow, because of the nation's frustration, the attitudes of these men, our soldiers, were perverted to mean that most of them were opportunistic and self-seeking. Good God, would you want a military that shrank from combat when combat presented itself?"
The 20 men of SAMVA are assigned to the C-Ring of the Pentagon, an area where everyone uses the word "synthesis" profusely. The offices of SAMVA are well lighted; that much can be said for them. Three posters serve as the only decoration. One is an Easy Rider photo with Dennis Hopper providing a naughty hand signal. Another, over Dawkins' desk, is by Ben Shahn and carries the message: YOU HAVE NOT CONVERTED A MAN BECAUSE YOU HAVE SILENCED HIM. The third poster features a model posing as a t.t.u. soldier—a t.t.u. soldier is a tough, thoughtful, unarmed soldier—which is about the only breed of that cat the public will accept nowadays. Around SAMVA, only "synthesis" is heard more often than "tough, thoughtful, unarmed."
Dawkins, having spent much of his career studying at Oxford and Princeton, teaching at West Point and on policy assignments in Saigon and Washington, is, obviously, very much a living, breathing t.t.u. soldier. He did win an array of impressive medals for his courage in Vietnam, but he does not wear them as a rule, limiting himself to the most austere ornamentation and, of course, his West Point ring. Other officers know Academy graduates as "ring knockers."
The higher up Dawkins moves (and his promotion to lieutenant colonel has been approved), the more scrutiny he will receive. Already, old-line lifers, in from another bivouac, grumble about Dawkins' pantywaist desk tours, and an Iowa Congressman once rose on the floor of the House to protest that the Government was paying for Dawkins' fancy book learning.
Nevertheless, Dawkins is escorted by two totems as he ascends the hierarchy, and one is his football reputation—or, anyway, his overall cadet fame that was founded on the playing fields. In a business that treasures tradition, Dawkins is tradition on the hoof. Moreover, his celebrity gives him a potential outside the military that translates to leverage within. Says Major Josiah Bunting, a close friend who is a novelist and a history professor at West Point: "If ever a time comes when Pete is faced with compromising his principles, he can always say, 'O.K., I'll go be a Senator instead.' Now how can they handle that?"
In fact, most people wonder why he bothers to keep tilling the feudal Army soil. Says Kris Kristofferson, the songwriter, who was also a Rhodes scholar and a combat helicopter pilot: "It used to bewilder me why someone with Pete's intelligence and charisma would stay in the Army. I have such tremendous respect for him. But he sold me. Look at it this way: it's great just to have someone like Pete Dawkins in the military."