Should ‘Waste’ Money At Home
S.Q. Lapius usually discouraged interruptions while he was reading, but this time he put down the paper and pushed his bifocals high on his forehead to acknowledge the expletives I had blurted out about Cambodia.
“Wow, this business in Phnom Penh blows my mind, Simon. Can you imagine? The Khmer Rouge has evacuated the city, driven everybody back to the land to eke out an agrarian existence. They have disavowed the city. It is uninhabited, and will be reclaimed by the jungle, like Angkor Wat, or like the Mayan ruins.”
“Perhaps,” Lapius mused, “It will be rediscovered five hundred years hence by some diligent archeologists, who will wonder why the civilization disappeared. This of course may be the clue to the ‘disappearance’ of the Mayans and Aztecs. Perhaps great civilizations never really die out but only the products of the civilization, such as their cities and shrines are given up, while the people disperse to the countryside. The leadership, the cultural political nexus somehow disbands, is overthrown, or simply becomes fatigued and calls it quits, so that the social structure collapses.”
“It sure is mind boggling, though. I can’t get over it.”
Lapius wrinkled his nose, as he always did when I used modern jargon to express an emotion which he thought should better be described in traditional English. “Mind boggling?” he asked.
“Yes, it boggles the mind,” I explained.
“Ugh,” he said disdainfully. “Well, yes, Harry, it is astonishing.”
“Suppose,” I said. “our government suddenly decided that it did not need Cleveland or Philadelphia anymore, and distributed the population of either of these cities to the countryside. That would be fantastic, wouldn’t it?”
“I would have thought so a few weeks ago, Harry, but now I am not so sure. It seems that we have learned a lesson from Cambodia. Shortly after the evacuation of Phnom Penh Mayor Beame requested a billion or so dollars from the federal government to help meet the payroll, and President Ford sent him a ‘Dear Abe’ letter denying the funds, and then Secretary of the Treasury Simon said that if New York defaulted on its debts, failed to pay interest on its bonds, and was unable to meet its salaries, it would cause only a minor ripple in the financial markets of the nation. Apparently the administration has decided to divest itself of New York City. The philosophy of the Khmer Rouge was not lost on our leaders in Washington. Except they are less considerate than the new Cambodian leadership. The Khmer Rouge drove everyone out of the city at bayonet point, but at least they will have the opportunity to try to carve out subsistence on the land. You know, grow a vegetable garden. But our leaders are less solicitous. They are willing to let the city die with the people still in it.”
“I never thought of it that way,” I admitted, “But surely New York will find financing somewhere, and be able to rejoin the union.”
“Perhaps,” Lapius said, “but perhaps it is turning out that our government is becoming an enemy of the people. It adopts somewhat ruthless measures to keep down the medical expenses of Americans, prohibits construction of new hospitals by communities, worries about waste in health care, fails to feed its own citizens in a satisfactory manner, since it seems many of them are buying dog food, and yet is terribly concerned about the living standard of people abroad. Perhaps if we would attend our cities, our farms, and ‘waste’ our money at home, there would be less need to waste it abroad.”
“You are in a particularly somber mood today, Simon,” I said.
“Yes, just realizing as I have, that while we were Vietnamizing Vietnam, we were being Cambodianized.”