Bayou-Picayune Podcast, S02 EP14: My love for a free press and a mimeograph machine, part two
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After college, I was drafted into the U.S. Army. This was during the Vietnam War.
Instead of being sent to Vietnam, however, I ended up in Germany as an army postal clerk.
I worked alone in a postal finance office, and right next door was the office of our company’s commanding officer, Major Ives.
From time to time, he would come out his office to take a break from his mundane desk job and talk to me.
One day the man came in and just stood there for two, maybe three minutes while I canceled the postage stamps and tossed letters into various sacks for distribution. Finally, he said to me, “Pierson, you must be aware of the morale problem we have in this unit.”
Then he went on to say racial tensions were growing in his company and he needed to come up with something to ease the friction.
I figured Major Ives was looking for suggestions, so I offered him one. “Why don’t you run a companywide nighttime basketball league?”
I pointed out that we had a gymnasium and there were several different areas of operation in our company — among them, breakdown, distribution, finance and parcel post.
“Why don’t you direct each section to field a team? That way the black and white men in each department would have to play together against the other teams in the company.”
Major Ives liked the idea. Something like that, he said, should definitely improve morale. But, he added, he didn’t know how to run such a thing, a basketball league.
No problem, I told him. I had organized leagues and tournaments and playoffs in high school, and I could do the same thing here, in the army.
I said the only problem I saw was how to keep everyone abreast of the league standings and schedule and the individual scoring leaders.
That’s when Major Ives suggested a solution. “I’ll give you access to the company’s mimeograph machine so you can do that.”
Thus, was born Macht Nichts, my newspaper for our company. Written by David Pierson. Edited by David Pierson. Published by David Pierson.
The name, Macht Nichts, was GI slang, corrupted German for “means nothing.” That was how the men in my unit referred to every meaningless job they had to perform. “Nothing matters. It’s all macht nichts.”
Things went well. We had a six-team basketball league and played a ten-game season, which was followed up by a four-team playoff for the company championship.
After that, I started a slow-pitch softball league on Sunday afternoons, and that was even bigger and more successful. All the men would show up with their wives or girlfriends.
And I would write articles about the games and publish the results, standings, league leaders and schedule each week in Macht Nichts.
Little by little, I added more to my newspaper. First, it was an advice column for GIs, then a humorous continuing narrative about a PFC Gulliver who was whisked away from his homeland and placed in a faraway country where people didn’t even speak his language.
But still it lacked something that you could find in nearly every newspaper — an editorial page. So, I started writing editorials.
I saw my editorials as the voice of the downtrodden enlisted personnel who saw everything as macht nichts. We were the ones who had to carry out the directives of sergeants and officers who were in positions of authority not because of any special skills they possessed but simply because they had been in the army for a long time.
For maximum efficiency and productivity, I wrote, positions of authority should be assigned to those who were qualified, not simply awarded to those who had seniority.
Alas, Major Ives didn’t appreciate my ideas about how to run a better and more efficient army. He called me into his office and told me I was no longer allowed access to the mimeograph machine and the only reason I wasn’t going to be disciplined was because my suggestion about forming company sports leagues had indeed improved company morale.
So Macht Nichts, like my St. Ben Gazette when I was in high school, ceased publication, and, when my time in the army was up, I was happily and honorably discharged and sent home to cause trouble in the private sector.
And that concludes the two-part story about my love for a free press and a mimeograph machine.