February 23, 2005

King of the Blackfellows

King of the Blackfellows: I'm reminded of story in William Manchester's famous Pacific War memoir Goodbye, Darkness, in which, decades after WWII, he visits a Melanesian island where the natives, who called themselves "Blackfellows" had a fervent cargo cult left over from WWII when they witnessed American officers pick up a telephones and call for planes full of desirable cargo. So, the Blackfellows carved wooden phones, hacked landing strips out of the jungle, and even built tall control towers, just like the Seabees had done, but when they called on their wooden phones, frustratingly, no planes full of cargo ever came.

Around 1965, the Blackfellows heard that the #1 man in America at picking up the telephone and giving orders was President Lyndon Baines Johnson, so they somehow scraped together the money and bought LBJ a one-way plane ticket to Melanesia. They sent it to the White House along with a formal invitation to become King of the Blackfellows. Sadly, LBJ never came. Manchester contends that LBJ would have delighted his new subjects, and personally would have enjoyed being King of the Blackfellows far more than he enjoyed the last three years of his Presidency.

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