Allen Young : Ralph Dungan, the ‘Good Liberal’

Ralph Dungan in Chile, 1966. Photo from The Washington Post.

Discretion, valor,
and the ‘good liberal’

In the most patronizing tone, Mr. Dungan said if we opposed U.S. policy, we should ‘return to the U.S. and run for Congress.’

By Allen Young | The Rag Blog | December 16, 2013

The October obituary of Ralph Dungan, one of President John F. Kennedy’s top aides who later served as ambassador to Chile, reminded me of my one-time experience with this man referred to by a historian as a “good liberal.”

In the mid-1960s, when I was living in Santiago, Chile, on a scholarship from the Inter-American Press Association, I was called in to Ambassador Dungan’s office along with another American graduate student and given a tongue-lashing that I have never forgotten.

My friend and I both had strong objections to the growing military involvement of the United States in Vietnam and awareness of the growing anti-war movement back home, and we had been expressing our views to our Chilean friends. Fluent in Spanish, I spoke to a gathering of students at the University of Chile.

In the most patronizing tone, Mr. Dungan said if we opposed U.S. policy, we should “return to the U.S. and run for Congress.” He made veiled threats that if we continued this behavior, our lives could become complicated.

I became quite angry about this lecture and considered informing Chile’s very popular left-wing press. This could have led to headlines, but the truth is that I was quite intimidated by the whole thing. I was only 25 years old, and I was afraid I could lose my scholarship and my related draft deferment. I didn’t stop expressing my views, but I became more cautious.

Thus a classic liberal showed his true colors on the issue of the Vietnam War and freedom of expression. And I was not as courageous as I might have been. Looking back on my entire life, this moment in Chile is the best example I have of truly understanding the famous line from Shakespeare’s Henry IV: “Discretion is the better part of valor.”

[Allen Young left The Washington Post to work with Liberation News Service in the late Sixties and later became an important voice in the gay liberation movement. Allen now lives in rural Massachusetts where he is involved with environmental issues and writes a column for the Athol Daily News.]

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