Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.)
Table of Contents
Documentation vs. advertising photography
Social Activism in Austin
Joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War
Met with the Black Panthers and the Brown Barrets in California
1970's in Austin
Arrest of political figures
Chuck Wagon at the University of Texas
Arrest for conspiracy charge
Austin Prison Coalition
Treatment of visitors to prisons
Ruiz v. Estelle law suit
Photographing prison conditions
Jobs (MOS) in Vietnam War
Involvement in politics
Interest in history
Video 7 of "Interview with Mr. Alan Pogue"
armed conflict and persecution
civil and political rights
ethnic and racial discrimination
economic, social, and cultural rights
economic and labor rights
social and cultural rights
laws, justice, and judicial proceedings
prisons and prisoners
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RAYMOND: . . . 2008. We are at the Texas Center for Documentary Photography, otherwise known informally as Alan's studio. Behind this camera is Gabe Solis. My
voice, me, is Virginia Raymond and we are here to continue an interview we started with Alan last week. And you're okay with us interviewing you?
ALAN POGUE: Oh yes.
RAYMOND: And this will be for public educational, non-commercial purposes.
ALAN POGUE: Okay.
RAYMOND: Thank you.
ALAN POGUE: All right.
RAYMOND: So I was going to go back and ask you, how did you get involved in photography in the first place?
ALAN POGUE: It was very simple. My mother gave me a little plastic Instamatic camera when I was going to Vietnam in 1967. I was going to Vietnam and although
I was trained as a medic in the army, I was also a chaplain's assistant and I was going to Vietnam at least supposedly as a chaplain's assistant, so she asked me to take the little "camera and
send her pictures since she thought I would probably never write a letter.
POGUE: So I was taking pictures everywhere I went: the camp, Chu Lai, Vietnam. And then eventually I was back in the medics and I was a combat medic with the
infantry, so I took pictures of my fellow soldiers in the countryside and the Vietnamese people and I would send those pictures, the good ones, the ones that weren't too shocking, back to my
POGUE: But I got an R and R, what they call rest and recuperation leave to Tokyo, which I enjoyed a great deal and I was very intent on getting a good camera
because when I was out in the fields taking pictures I could give my film to the helicopter pilots, who would take it to the P.X. and bring me back my prints or slides fairly quickly along with
the medical supplies I was ordering.
POGUE: I got interested in the photography for its own sake. I just enjoyed it but the limitations on the instamatic were that it basically had one shutter
speed, one aperture, and you could use a flashcube, except not in Vietnam. That would be a bad idea.
POGUE: So I knew of Nikon, that was the leading thirty-five millimeter camera at the time, and I got a Nikon, and three lenses, a case, and a flash I think
for less than two hundred dollars at the Naval Exchange. I ran into a lot of people in Tokyo that were helpful in that way by giving me tips.
POGUE: And so I never really took it out of the box in Vietnam.
POGUE: I didn't want the camera to get hurt, so, but the most important thing is while I was in Vietnam and experiencing combat, I was very sympathetic
towards the Vietnamese people and I thought that back in the United States it would be good if people in general saw photographs of the Vietnamese people just living their lives
POGUE: and were introduced to who they were, because as a soldier, we were never given any cultural knowledge in any way to sensitize us to the Vietnamese
people, to Buddhism, to their way of life and history.
POGUE: We were pretty totally ignorant. And so the idea of documenting, which is to portray things as they actually are, you know, not to make it better or
worse, but how are things, how do people look, what do they really do, how do they really live their lives -- as opposed to advertising photography which always heightens and makes things
better than good and more colorful than real and all of that nonsense --
POGUE: So when I came back from Vietnam with my brand new Nikon, I threw myself into learning how to develop film and make prints and then when I got to
Austin, which wasn't long after that, January of 1969, I enrolled at U.T. and was fortunate enough to get a very cheap room at the University Y on the drag, on Guadalupe, twenty-two hundred
POGUE: And in the basement there had been a darkroom and I discovered that and cleaned it out and set it up and put my little enlarger in there and the
people who ran the Y were very tolerant of me and let me do that. Also in the basement of the University Y,
TheRagnewspaper had its office. So I started taking pictures for
The Ragand I joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
POGUE: So I was photographing all of the time, every social thing that was happening because one thing about working for a newspaper is there's always a
deadline, so I was working with the Community United Front, Larry Jackson and the Black Radicals were having their Breakfasts for Children program and it was running out of University Y, so
there they were and I was photographing them.
POGUE: And then they would invite me over to the East Side where mostly African Americans and Mexican Americans lived, east of I-35.
POGUE: And Larry and Anthony Spears, Suzie Matthews, a whole crew of people who worked with Community United Front, took me all over the East Side and which
eventually took me to Oakland in Los Angeles, where I met with the Black Panthers because Larry Jackson was going out to Oakland and meeting with the Black Panthers and then I went out with
POGUE: So I was fortunate to be the only Anglo person there at these times and photographed those things, but then the Brown Berets, Paul Hernández, all the
issues, particularly police brutality and because the Austin Police were able to hurt and even kill young African Americans and Mexican Americans with impunity, that caused there to be a
coalition around that issue.
POGUE: In the early seventies, particularly the huge march in 1974, where Paul Hernández and the Brown Berets along with different parts of the Black
community staged a huge march that went not only to the police force, but I thought the genius OF IT was they took it all the way to Mayor Roy Butler's front lawn in west Austin
POGUE: and that has been an issue. One of the most dramatic ones in 1970 or seventy-one, I think it was seventy one, Little Joe Cedillo -- we called him
Little Joe because he was only fourteen -- in Montopolis, which is almost a subsection of the East Side.
POGUE: Joe was shoplifting a loaf of bread and a package of luncheon meat because he was hungry and when he was running out of the convenience store and
trying to get away, I think he had made it to the fence and a police officer shot him in the back of the head and murdered him instantly.
POGUE: And as usual, there were hearings and as usual I don't think the police officer was disciplined or lost a day's pay or anything. I just don't think
anything happened, which was typical.
POGUE: And it kept on happening and in the summer of 1974, I think three or four East Side youths died at the hands of the Austin Police under suspicious
circumstances which led to the huge march, finally.
POGUE: But I found that the way Austin politics works, nothing is ever
done. Nothing was ever done. The city manager is supposed to oversee the police force and the city council members would use the city manager as a buffer, as a reason not to do
POGUE: They would always throw up their hands and say, "Well, we can't get involved with the politics of the police force."
POGUE: "We can't override the city manager because we had a stronger city manager system of government," which of course is nonsense because they hire and
fire the city managers, so the city manager is going to know which way the wind is blowing, so to speak.
POGUE: I think it's only until very, very recently has their been any shift towards holding the police accountable and any time the city manager, the city
council, the police chief does hold a police officer accountable, there's a huge outcry on the part of the police force saying, "If we can't do anything we want anytime we want, then our hands
POGUE: That's their typical response. So I did a lot of that, that kind of photography.
POGUE: But there was women's liberation, which was huge and Judy Smith who was a person that was very important for
The Ragand for women's liberation, well she was a member of
The Ragcollective, so I always knew what they were up to and I'd often get called upon to photograph their activities.
POGUE: And then the ecology movement, environmental movements in general, even something— There's so many things we take for granted.
POGUE: Day care, there was no day care and so having a day care center at the university was an innovation or even the idea that mothers with children, there
ought to be some way to accommodate their children so that they can go to school or work. This was a revolutionary idea back in the seventies.
POGUE: There was so many things so I photographed all of them and among the things that were happening was the arrest and incarceration of political people,
POGUE: I remember Lee Otis Johnson, I think in Dallas, and then there was the assassination of Carl Hampton in Houston.
POGUE: He was shot by a police sniper when he was running down the street. It had been reported to him that a woman was being beaten and there was no woman
being beaten. It was just to get him outside so he could be shot, and that was Houston.
POGUE: So myself in photographing political activity, anti-war activity, I was arrested. There was the famous Chuck Wagon incident in which the university
declared that anyone who didn't have a current student I.D. couldn't go into the Chuck Wagon, which was in the Student Union, and get a cup of coffee or whatever.
POGUE: The idea behind that was to keep political activity down so that, because the Chuck Wagon was a place where people would gather to talk about
political ideas at the University of Texas, and students and former students didn't like the idea that anyone who wanted to come in and have a cup of coffee couldn't do it.
POGUE: So there was a group of people who spoke out against it from the steps of the Student Union and everything was very calm. People went into the Chuck
Wagon and they were talking about it and the people who ran the Union agreed that everybody that was there could stay until eleven o'clock at night or whenever they closed down.
POGUE: I think the vice president of the student body was there. A lot of people were there. But Frank Erwin, who was the Chair of the Board of Regents, who
is sort of an abrasive person who liked to get headlines,
POGUE: called the Department of Public Safety and somehow was able to get them to show up with mace and riot gear and forced their way into the Chuck Wagon
and caused an incident by their methods, but actually in the Chuck Wagon, nothing happened, nothing at all. Almost everyone had left.
POGUE: And I think I mentioned this: they tried to beat up the vice president of the student body, who was Black but someone intervened and informed
POGUE: So I was arrested two weeks later on a conspiracy charge of conspiring to cause a riot. Myself and eighteen other people were arrested on that
POGUE: And there were three people I think from out of Austin who had slashed some tires on a police van.
POGUE: And after months of legal wrangling, everyone, all of the eighteen people, the charges, including myself, were dismissed because there was not a riot,
there was no conspiracy to start one, and none of the eighteen people had broken any law at all.
POGUE: And so it was simply harassment. And I was harassed at other times for being a photographer for
The Rag, so I did have to spend a night in jail and other
Ragstaffers, some of them spent many nights in jail.
POGUE: I remember Bill Meecham spent several days in the county jail and he was set up to be beaten badly, and I think even one of his ribs was cracked and
punctured a lung and he eventually won some money from the county on that one, which is something else.
POGUE: He was put into a cell with people who had been arrested for aggravated assault. The very idea that this tall, skinny philosophy graduate student was
going to get thrown into jail with very assaultive and combative people while he was set up to get beaten. So that --
POGUE: And Lee Otis Johnson was a community organizer in Dallas and he was given many years in prison I think for simply passing a joint, I think, because in
those days if you handed someone a marijuana cigarette, that was called a sail. Just— you're sailing it, you know? So they gave him a very harsh sentence.
POGUE: And so I got involved with the Austin Prison Coalition and the Austin Prison Coalition was a small group of people. There were many small groups of
people, mostly relatives of prisoners. They would hold demonstrations to try to get some help for their loved ones in prison and that was in 1972.
POGUE: So around 1974, I met Charlie and Pauline Sullivan.
POGUE: Charlie had been a Catholic priest in Alabama and Pauline had been a Catholic nun I think in Minnesota and they met and liked each other so much that
Charlie went through the process of being released from his vows so he wouldn't be a Catholic priest.
POGUE: Pauline left being a nun and they were traveling through the south, but they were very political and Charlie was arrested in San Antonio for
POGUE: Spent a night or two in the county jail in San Antonio and realized that not only was it wretched in general, but from talking to the other prisoners,
he found out that all the prisons in Texas were north and south of Houston.
POGUE: They were not spread out around the entire state, so if you were arrested in Texarkana and convicted in El Paso or Brownsville or whatever, you would
be north or south of Houston for your entire sentence.
POGUE: And it was very difficult for family members to visit their loved ones in prison, so Charlie and Pauline, being ever resourceful in going straight to
the point, they organized the family members to charter buses to take them from San Antonio to the prisons.
POGUE: Once they got to the prisons, then they found out how rudely the family members were treated. There was perhaps no visitation center. They'd have to
stand out in the rain or the hot sun. Perhaps they would be denied the ability to meet with their loved one for some real or imagined reason.
POGUE: And the time they would actually get to be with their loved one would be very short and I think almost always there would be no opportunity to hug or
touch the person, and you'd be a room that was loud. A lot of people would be talking simultaneously in a little room, but with the barrier between oneself and the prisoner.
POGUE: So at each step of the way, Charlie and Pauline found that there were more barriers, more difficulties, more problems and so they wanted to address
these problems and they found that in other cities in Texas there were other groups that wanted to address these problems.
POGUE: So the next idea they had was why don't we have all of these groups unite into one big group and have them talk to each other. It would be more
powerful, we could exchange information and they could lobby the Texas Legislature.
POGUE: So they came up with the CURE: Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, and I was there the whole time. I was there at the very first
meeting here in Austin. I remember—
RAYMOND: Where was it?
ALAN POGUE: I think Malcolm Greenstein's office. Malcolm and a few other people. I remember Professor Filvaroff, a law professor, was there, some sociology
professors, people interested in social services. Well Susie Matthews was there, who's now with Austin Child Guidance.
POGUE: A lot of the same people that had been doing this since the seventies were there. The room was packed. There were a lot of former prisoners, lots of
mothers of prisoners were there to talk about the beginning. I with I could remember, there was this one curly haired lawyer who wrote their charter. And so I was with them through the whole
POGUE: Well I first met them in 1974 because there was a joint Texas House-Texas Senate conference on prison conditions in Texas and they had hearings and
brought in prisoners in their white uniforms, handcuffed to testify before members of the Texas House and the Texas Senate and that was very powerful.
POGUE: I think I met Lloyd Doggett for the first time. I have photographs of Lloyd Doggett and Charlie and Pauline speaking outside the Senate chambers.
POGUE: So that was 1975 when CURE was formally chartered. Charlie and Pauline worked for ten years until 1985 before they went to D.C. with the idea of
organizing other states under the same model.
POGUE: But during that time, in 1978, there were the writ writers, these self-educated jailhouse lawyers who had written up many complaints, complaints about
lack of medical care, even untrained inmates acting as doctors almost, and doing things they were not trained to do. Using prisoners as guards, the building tender system, overcrowding.
POGUE: So many problems and they wrote all them up and sent them to Judge William Wayne Justice, federal judge, and he gathered all of their complaints into
one large suit against the state, a federal suit against the state over prison conditions.
POGUE: In 1978 that started. They called it
Ruíz versus Estelle, because it was David Ruíz, was the named plaintiff standing for all of the prisoners although he was only one of not only all of the prisoners but one of several
writ writers who worked on this. And then Estelle was the head of the Prison Board.
POGUE: So the suit, the testimony went on for a year. There were, I think, more than three hundred people testified.
POGUE: And Judge Justice found that indeed the Texas prison system was being so poorly run, and there were so many very serious complaints, that he put the
Texas prison system in a receivership.
POGUE: It would be managed by the federal government and he brought in a retired prison director from California named Procunier, who had the ability to hire
and fire and this is what shook the system up because before, it really was a good old boy system.
POGUE: Each warden ran their own prison their own way and there wasn't much oversight. No one was rocking the boat. No one had to fear that they would lose
POGUE: And so when Procunier came in and started firing people right and left, I remember when I went in to photograph in the prison system -- I wasn't
brought in until 1984. I was brought in in the compliance phase.
POGUE: The state was always trying to get out from under the receivership, the control of the federal government, so they had to show that they had complied
with what the suit mandated. So I photographed really for all sides.
POGUE: I went into the prison usually with lawyers. It was the William Bennett Turner firm.
POGUE: They were hired by the N. double A. C. P. to represent the prisoners, but I also went into the prisons with representatives of the Attorney General's
office. I would be given a list of places within a particular prison to photograph and I went to eight different prisons and I photographed them thoroughly.
POGUE: There was a kind of routine. I was going to cover medical care, living arrangement, food service. A lot of it had to do with the physical plant.
Deterioration was a big problem, big problem. Every prison that I went to, things were simply falling apart because they didn't have a routine maintenance schedule.
POGUE: When I talked to people that had to do with maintenance, I would ask them. I said, Well do you have a list of spare parts?
POGUE: "Well no, we don't."
POGUE: Do you know how many light bulbs you have?
POGUE: "No, we don't."
POGUE: How many people are involved in repairing electrical apparatus?
POGUE: Usually it would be one person.
POGUE: How many people doing plumbing?
POGUE: One person.
POGUE: There weren't enough people so there wasn't any routine maintenance plan. Also, there was only one budget in a prison that would cover everything from
the backup power generators to toilet paper.
POGUE: So if the backup power generator goes out, that would take up the whole budget for the year. Well what are you going to do?
POGUE: But also this lack of oversight would lead to things like, well, theft.
POGUE: If you're a warden, you have this prison, if you wanted to sell your friend's tires or air conditioners or sides of beef, or anything you wanted,
there was no way to keep track of it, and so this did happen.
POGUE: You could use prisoners— you could allow people to take prisoners to do private work. Prisoners could do private work for people outside the prison
and the warden would get the money.
POGUE: All these kinds of abuses could take place because there was no oversight.
POGUE: So all of the pictures that I took in eighty-four— I remember the burned out ceiling fans, the lack of the ability of the prisoners to keep the place
POGUE: There simply weren't enough trashcans and no ability for prisoners to take the trash out. You can imagine. You can't leave your cellblock unless
you're under guard. They can't take the trash out; they wanted to.
POGUE: But I would look up and see ceiling beams; I mean these are concrete ceiling beams cracking. Dangerous situations, not just cosmetic ones like paint
peeling, things like that. And if you're in a prison and a third of the toilets don't work, that's a horrible situation.
POGUE: So all of these things I covered.
POGUE: BUT I also got to meet Judge William Wayne Justice in 1978. I was going to Houston fairly often to cover the trial. Of course I couldn't photograph
inside the courtroom. They were very strict about that.
POGUE: Judge Justice was known as a liberal judge in a very conservative state. I think he was named to the court by L.B.J., Lyndon Baines Johnson, but he
cared very much about ordinary people, particularly people who were institutionalized in any way, not just prisons but it could be mental institutions.
POGUE: And so this concern for his fellow human beings gets called "liberal," but it really is just caring. But he was a, you can imagine, he was a federal
judge. Well, he's very sharp, very intelligent, very observant.
POGUE: And so he observed that I always happened to be in the right place to photograph David Ruíz in particular, and so he asked me how did I know exactly
where to be all the time and I said, well, I would chat up the— there's a different kind of guard -
POGUE: It wasn't prison guards, there were federal guards at the courthouse and the guards liked to be photographed as well and so I would say, Well, when is
David going to come out and where is he going to be? I'll be there.
POGUE: I'm going to get a picture and I'll get a picture of you and David and maybe be able to print it in a magazine, which I did as a matter of fact.
POGUE: But with that information, Judge William Wayne Justice gave the guards hell and said, "You know, you can't be telling this guy. I mean how do you
know? He might be an assassin. He could -- it could cause some problem, if not in this case, in some future case."
POGUE: So he told them to be friendly but they weren't supposed to be giving me that kind of information, which I guess the cat was out of the bag at that
point anyway. But it just showed how observant he was, I thought.
POGUE: He was very friendly. But he refused to let me photograph him even on the same floor that the courtroom is on so we had to go to a different level in
the federal courthouse to a law library that he didn't use normally so that I could get some portraits of him.
POGUE: And I photographed the lawyers for the state as well as the different lawyers for the Ruíz case because it was not only William Bennett Turner; there
were some other lawyers involved representing prisoners as well.
POGUE: And I think— well I did the compliance photography in 1984 and I produced three sets of prints: one set of prints for the judge, on set of prints for
the prosecution and for the defense attorneys, the state's attorneys and the plaintiff's attorneys.
POGUE: It was a lot of prints but that was some very hard evidence of conditions when you get up at a high level and you photograph a whole room full of beds
and they're just two feet away from each other going down the walkways. I even saw beds high up where there was a window ledge. I mean, there were beds wherever they could be put.
POGUE: That's not a liberal or a conservative photograph. It's simply a photograph of the physical reality of the place and that showed non-compliance.
Hundreds of broken toilets, that's non-compliance. Broken ceiling fans, all of that stuff, even in a relatively new prison, I photographed all of the seals on the walking freezers and coolers
POGUE: Cans of food had expanded because bacteria was growing inside of them. Those kinds of things are incontrovertible evidence of non-compliance, and that
again is what documentary photography is about. These are the facts. This is the way it is.
POGUE: So the Ruíz case drug on longer. The sad thing was that the people involved in state government, instead of simply saying, Yes, we have problems, and
yes, we're going to fix them, and fixing them, they denied they had problems and denied they had problems and then didn't fix them, and this caused the whole process to take forever to get
POGUE: And then sadly, I think, one of the answers was just to build a lot more prisons, which they finally discovered was enormously expensive, in the
billions of dollars, and really didn't help, wasn't the answer.
POGUE: Let's see, where should we go from here?
RAYMOND: Maybe I can catch up with a couple of questions?
ALAN POGUE: Yeah.
RAYMOND: I didn't know or didn't remember that the trial was in Houston. Judge Justice's seat was in Tyler. Do you know why they moved it to Houston? Was
that for convenience because of the location?
ALAN POGUE: I— Well it's true. All of the prisons were north and south of Houston so to bus the prisoners to testify, I'm sure it would be a lot easier, of
course the federal courthouse itself was larger and I think it would be more accessible to lawyers flying in and out of Houston. I think, yeah, I think accessibility would be my guess because I
wasn't in on the deliberations, but.
RAYMOND: Okay, excellent. Can you give us, going way back to when we started, you were a medic and—
ALAN POGUE: Chaplain's assistant.
RAYMOND: Chaplain's assistant in the Vietnam War. How did you get those jobs?
ALAN POGUE: Well it was very— In high school in the summers, I had a job as a hospital orderly, the Spohn Hospital in Corpus and I was always kind of
interested in medical care and so when I received my draft notice and they asked me what I wanted to do, I said I wanted to be a medic and they were ever so happy to take me up on it.
POGUE: I went to Fort Sam Houston, where all the medics are trained in the Army and went through medical training, but my first duty assignment was Fort
Carson, Colorado. And at Fort Carson, I would go to the chapel to read. It was very quiet. People didn't go there during the week.
POGUE: So I was sitting in the pew reading Teilhard de Chardin's
The Making ofaMind.Teilhard de Chardin was a French Jesuit priest, but he was a theologian and also a paleontologist, an extremely interesting fellow. He was radical thinker and so the Jesuits sent
him off to China where he discovered Peking Man, so there was no way to keep Chardin down.
POGUE: So I was reading his books. It was Chardin's war letters because he was what they called a letter bearer. He was a combat medic in the first World War
in France and I was reading his letters and who should come along but Chaplain Captain Donald Shay who had taught a course on Chardin at the University of Montana.
POGUE: So he saw this guy, this P.F.C reading Chardin and so we struck up a conversation and he saw me there a few times more and so one day he said, "Well,
would you like to be my assistant?"
POGUE: And I said, Oh yes I would. I would like to very much.
POGUE: And so the head doctor for the division, I think it was Fifth Mechanized Fort Carson, was Catholic.
POGUE: So Donald Shay gave the head of the division hospital a very large statue of Saint Patrick -- it must have been three or four feet tall -- in return
POGUE: So Donald Shay took me over to the administration office and well no— First we walked over to the division hospital and somehow or another, he had my
medical— in the Army, it's M.O.S., "Medical Occupational Specialty" -- "Military Occupational Specialty" --crossed off and "Chaplain's Assistant" written in.
POGUE: And then we went over to the hospital and had my name crossed off of their personnel roster and my name was added to his chaplain's, chapel personnel
roster and bingo, I was a chaplain's assistant! Which gave me my own office and I taught religion and I was his driver and he was a great guy.
POGUE: I thought that he was going to simply serve up his time and leave the military but instead he stayed in the military and became Chaplain General, or
General Chaplain Donald Shay. He ran the whole Army Chaplains Corps by the time he retired many years later.
POGUE: But what happened was he had volunteered to be a chaplain with the Special Forces and he got his duty assignment to go to Bad Tolz, Germany and he
asked me if I wanted to go along and be his assistant there. I thought, Oh great. I get to go to Germany, get to go to Europe. This is wonderful.
POGUE: Well, they said I'd have to go through an abbreviated Special Forces training, which I'd have to jump out of airplanes and eat worms in Panama. I'd
have to be certified as a paratrooper and I would have to go to a survivalist school in Panama. I said, Okay, I'll do it. Whatever it takes, I'll do it.
POGUE: And then the answer came back, "Fine, but you have to spend six more months in the military to pay them back for this wonderful training."
POGUE: And I said, No way. I said, I don't care. There is nothing that the Army has to offer me that I would spend another day in it for.
POGUE: So he went to Bad Tolz, Germany and I stayed in Fort Carson but unfortunately the chaplains I got after that were time-server people.
POGUE: They were people who probably couldn't keep a congregation together in civilian life. They didn't have any interest in the welfare of the
lower-ranking troops because I found out you only get three chances to make Major. You start off at Captain as a chaplain. If you don't make Major the third time, you're washed out of the
POGUE: So a lot of people don't want to make waves. They want good reports and they're afraid of advocating for the lower-ranking troops. So I was not
impressed by the chaplains I had to work for after Donald Shay left. He was, golly, he was in a class by himself, not that I didn't meet other chaplains as good, but they were few.
POGUE: So I volunteered to go to Vietnam as a chaplain's assistant and even though my company commander told me it was a bad idea, I managed to get my
application through while he was on leave. And they snap—
POGUE: No, they took their time! They took their time accepting me and so when I got my orders to go to Vietnam, I only had seven months left in the service
on my two-year draft.
POGUE: So I show up at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam like most Army guys and different parts of the Army tried to grab me because I had a Medical Military
Occupational Specialty, but the Chaplains Corps was able to keep me in the Chaplains Corps.
POGUE: I went to Chu Lai. I was with a chaplain but the poor guy had been an orphan himself and he was surrounded by orphans in Vietnam and he spent all of
his time helping the orphans, which was fine except that he was manic about it. He was clearly losing his mind.
POGUE: And so the Division Chaplains office said, "Look, you know, we understand. It's an intolerable situation working with this guy. If you want to work
with the Division Chaplains office, you can."
POGUE: And I didn't want to go there because they had us spit shine their shoes and wear starched clothes and it was just awful and I was young and foolish.
I guess I was twenty. I volunteered to go back into the medics.
POGUE: So they were, again, happy to take me up on that. So one day I got on a helicopter and they dropped me off in the middle of the countryside with an
infantry group. It was the one ninety-eight Flight Infantry Company D and I was the command platoon's medic.
POGUE: I was the medic with the company commander and the guys that had the mortar and the heavy machine guns and I did that for three months and then my
last month in Vietnam, as usual they rotated me out of the field and I spent the time mostly helping guys with malaria, which was interesting in itself.
POGUE: But the time, the three months I spent with the infantry in the countryside, which was a lot like the hill country around Austin, really, the people
call it jungle, in Vietnam a jungle. Well maybe in the delta, in the farther south part you'd find somebody's idea of jungle, but Chu Lai was north, more toward the D.M.Z, the demilitarized
zone, and so it was rolling hills, tall grass, trees, rivers.
POGUE: It was very beautiful. So I spent a lot of time walking around in that tall grass in that terrible heat, but of course my friends were being killed
and there was nothing to keep me from being killed except dumb luck. It's dangerous being the medic.
POGUE: All the people in my platoon and company treated the medics very well when we weren't under fire because when we were under fire, of course it was our
job to help people that were injured and so we had to take risks that other people didn't have to.
POGUE: But I saw that we were treating the Vietnamese very badly. Every chance I got, I would treat the Vietnamese people— a lot of times we would be in a
place where there would be nothing happening and we would be sitting around.
POGUE: I would go out with a rifle squad, say three, four, or five guys and we would set up shop and I'd be open and Vietnamese people would show up out of
nowhere because this would be out in the countryside and people would have earaches and cuts, but sometimes they would have napalm burns and that was really tough, or like big gashes from bomb
fragments. Difficult for me to treat but I did what I could.
RAYMOND: What did you do for napalm?
ALAN POGUE: I would requisition gauze that's impregnated with antibacterial ointment and I would get as many packages of the stuff as I could. I remember
this one woman, her whole side was just raw meat from napalm and I had to try to clean it off and put the medicated gauze on her but the sad part was I could give her some packages of this
stuff but in two or three days, I'd be gone.
POGUE: There's no follow-up. She needed to be in a burn center somewhere but I didn't have the authority to have her flown off to a burn center, which is
POGUE: So all of that activity, though, is what set me up for later. It caused me to have a lot of very deep questions about our foreign policy, what was our
real motivation, why were we here in this country treating these people so badly, and if we were here to help these people in any way at all, well we wouldn't be driving through the rice
paddies with tanks and blowing up their houses and killing their children, doing all of these awful things.
POGUE: You don't win people's hearts and minds by doing that, but I also understood the position of the soldiers like myself, being usually it's a teenagers'
war as they said, these ignorant young men, ignorant of history, ignorant of politics, who were thrown into a situation in which they were unwanted but we joked about it and the unwilling doing
the unnecessary for the ungrateful.
POGUE: We had lots of slogans and I remember my best friend was killed, Bruce Anello. He, on his flak jacket he had a big peace symbol and he had cut a pawn,
a plastic pawn out of a chess game in half and he had the half of it, there was a band that would go around the helmet to keep the helmet liner, I mean the camouflage stuff on. He had that pawn
snapped in place.
POGUE: So what we had was a sort of an existential, right here and now we know this is wrong, but what we lacked was any sort of analysis of why, or history.
I had no idea about the French and how we had inherited, not really inherited but had really promoted the French presence and it was almost a seamless handing off of the war to the United
States, and colonialism and all of that.
POGUE: But that came later. What helped me in documentary photography was what you
seeis more important than what you
think,if a person will allow themselves to assimilate what they see and forget about what they
think. That's the whole trick.
POGUE: If a person's ideology and philosophy, religion, politics is so strong that they won't allow themselves to understand the implications of what they
see, well then they're stuck. But a lot of people, particularly with visual evidence being so strong, if you can present them with enough visual evidence, that will change their mind.
POGUE: They will allow themselves to think a different thought and so since that was what was happening to me personally in Vietnam. It made me think a
different thought because of what I experienced, what I saw. So I— And it wasn't easy for me I remember because I was a word person.
POGUE: I was a debater in high school, a varsity debater and my father was a lawyer and so the ability to create a winning argument was there, but even when
I was a debater I wasn't happy with it because I thought what is the use of winning if you're not right?
POGUE: Great, you can baffle people but that's not good. I don't want to sell refrigerators to Eskimos and all that kind of nonsense.
POGUE: I don't want to sell a bad thing but I hadn't gotten to the visual part, but in Vietnam I did. I got to the visual part and it just— not— I didn't
think about it. It just took me wordlessly and I remember when I got back to the United States, I spent the whole summer in the library making a case. I decided to approach it as a debate.
POGUE: In high school we'd say "Resolved, that such and such." So I said, Okay, resolved that the United States ought to go to war in Vietnam. Can you make a
case for that? Can you make a counter case?
POGUE: And so I read everything that I could find in the
Index of Periodical Literature,and what I discovered was that you could not be informed enough to make a decision. There wasn't enough evidence either for the war or against the war in
all the popular news,
U.S. News World Report,
Time,I even looked at
Current Affairs Quarterly
Foreign Affairs Quarterly.
POGUE: They had tidbits of information but there wasn't enough information that you could connect the dots and make a case for or against the war. So that
was my introduction to what has become popular, which is a critique of the mass media.
POGUE: Well that was my critique of the mass media in the summer of 1968.
POGUE: I went to history books. I went to biographies of the main players whether it was Ho Chi Minh or Churchill or whoever, and histories and that's when I
got all that background, which made me even more unhappy but I was starting to develop my film in the dark room, in my kitchen and developing some skill in photography and I sort of had a
little crisis there because I was thinking well, which way am I going to go?
POGUE: Am I going to go back to words or am I going to do this thing with images, which was kind of uncharted territory.
POGUE: And I didn't make up my mind entirely so I went to U.T. and enrolled as a philosophy student and studied philosophy at U.T. while at the same time I
was taking pictures for the anti-war movement and all the cultural happenings that were occurring.
POGUE: And then eventually after about twenty-four hours of philosophy courses and sociology, and I really enjoyed anthropology, cultural and physical both,
I just stopped going to U.T. I got ninety hours and I just didn't go back and I kept doing the photography because that was what I was doing most of the time and there really wasn't another
philosophy course I could take.
POGUE:: I was already taking upper division philosophy courses and I didn't see myself as a philosophy professor. I just thought I would stay with the visual
evidence and so I did.
Alan Pogue is a photographer who has documented movements for social justice and the problems those movements seek to eliminate for four decades. In Video 1, Pogue explains his entry into the Texas prison reform movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s via civil rights, anti-war, and student organizing. A member of the Austin Prison Coalition, he soon met Pauline and Charlie Sullivan, founders of Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE). Pogue's commitment to prison reform paralleled his growth as a documentary photographer: in Video 1, he describes photographing prisons in connection with Ruíz v. Estelle, the longest-running prison lawsuit in U.S. history. In Videos 1 and 2, Pogue mentions specific people on Death Row. In Video 3, Pogue discusses the philosophy of incarceration and capital punishment as a form of human sacrifice. In Video 3, Pogue also addresses the conditions on Death Row; general access to prisons; prison reform and anti-death penalty movements; and the theological doctrine of predestination in relation to criminal justice policy. In Video 4, Pogue discusses Vietnam and his personal intellectual growth. In Video 5, Pogue discusses documentary photographer Russell Lee and the purpose, politics, and aesthetics of photography. In Videos 6 and 7, Pogue shares what he saw in numerous Latin American countries when he traveled on behalf of CURE, which produced a 2006 evaluation of prisons in member nations of the Organization of American States (OAS). This interview took place on October 8, 2008 at the Texas Center for Documentary Photography in Austin, Travis County, Texas.
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Virginia Marie RaymondRole: Interviewer
Gabriel Daniel SolisRole: Videographer
Kimberly Ambrosini-BaconRole: Transcriber
Kimberly Ambrosini-BaconRole: Proofreader
North America--United States--Texas
North America--United States--Texas--Austin
Type of Resource:
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