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And that’s the way it is

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vietnam

When I was about seven or eight I would watch the CBS Evening News with my father every night after dinner. This was at the height of US involvement in the Vietnam war, around the time of the Tet Offensive, when the anti-war movement in the U.S. was becoming something of a mass movement on college campuses. At that age I was only vaguely aware of all this, but I would follow the war on TV every night, as Walter Cronkite’s avuncular voice would introduce in the field segments from intrepid journalists (this was back in the days before the Pentagon had figured out how to properly domesticate the news coverage of our foreign adventures), and once a week there would be a body count: a graphic showing the number of U.S., South Vietnamese, and North Vietnamese/Viet Cong troops killed and wounded during the past seven days.

The numbers were generally something like 178 U.S., 331 South Vietnamese, and 3375 North Vietnamese killed. Even in my innocent youth it struck me after awhile that these proportions were so much to the disadvantage of our enemies that surely victory must be at hand. When I asked my father if this wasn’t the case he replied casually that the government simply made those numbers up. This came as quite a shock, but of course when I became a man and put aside childish things I learned that this had in fact been more or less the case.

Last night the CBS Evening News aired a piece on the law school scam in which I participated. (For those interested in such things I can report that CBS News did a very thorough job of fact-checking; I spent a lot of time talking with the producer about the precise factual basis for the assertions in the piece). People can judge for themselves, but in my view the piece was quite well-done, especially when one considers that mainstream opinion outside our little world regarding the economic circumstances of lawyers in general and recent graduates in particular remains largely in the grip of a vision of a vanished world — to the extent it ever even existed at all — in which being a lawyer means being a member of a high-paying, economically stable, and socially prestigious profession (yes Americans hate lawyers, but they hate them in part because they supposedly garner such great privileges from their social license to harass and complicate, etc.).

In any case, progress on that front is being made. There are plenty of days when anyone working on this topic can feel as if he or she is making no headway against an adamantine wall of denial and incomprehension. This isn’t one of those, and it’s good sometimes to reflect on how far things have come already, not merely on how far there still is to go. In that spirit I’d like to thank everybody who participates in the conversations on this blog and others, which in their own way are part of a necessary conversation that is starting to happen all across America — a conversation about social problems which go far beyond the law school scam, but which it in so many ways exemplifies.

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