In Thailand recently I visited Vimanmek, one of the old royal palaces, and, in the course of a guided tour, was taken into a room boasting a throne last inhabited in 1909 by King Chulalongkorn. Our group was told to kneel down on the thick pile carpet, and during a lecture on the room’s appointments I grew cramped and gradually extended my legs straight out from the crouch in which they had been constricted. A guard instantly reprimanded me for disrespect to the empty chair before me, and I spent the rest of my tour pondering the reflexes of instilled veneration to authority.
Amid the celebration of the Constitution’s bicentennial we would do well to ponder the implications of the saga outlined below, for it spells out in homely syntax the social and spiritual consequences of the imperial presidency and of the Rambo culture engendered in the Reagan era. What follows is drawn first from two reports in the Topeka Capital-Journal for September 9 and 10 and then from investigations conducted by this column and my colleague JoAnn Wypijewski.
Splendor in the Grass
Shortly after noon on Sunday, September 6, Air Force One was heading toward Forbes Field, the airport servicing Topeka, Kansas. In the plane President Reagan was reviewing his impending allocutions in Topeka on the occasion of Alf Landon’s 100th birthday. On the ground, security officers of the Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority were, in cooperation with the Secret Service, securing the area and seeking to insure that nothing would discommode the safely and decorum of welcoming ceremonies lor the Commander in Chief.
At approximately 12:15 P.M., as the imaginative eyes of the M.T.A.A. officers anticipated the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Reagan, their physical eyes observed two large dogs—one black, one gray—copulating at the intersection of two taxiways.
A witness then saw two M.T.A.A. security officers approach the dogs. The action was somewhat obscured by the long grass, but in the words of this witness, speaking anonymously to the Topeka Capital-Journal, “I could see the officers from the knees up, I saw the uniformed officer, with the full force of a large man, strike these dogs about five or six times,” The M.T.A.A. officers retreated. At about 2 P.M. the same officers returned. “The next thing I see,” the witness reported, “is a rifle coming out and firing downward at where the animals were. All I heard was one shot.” The dogs were then loaded into plastic bags, thrown onto a flatbed truck and driven to the southern end of the airfield.
Confronted with this account, Marvin Hancock, M.T.A.A. deputy director, stated that the Secret Service had ordered airport security “to get them [the dogsj out of there.” Attempts to separate the dogs with a welding glove had failed, he said: “They were locked and refused to leave. Since we had Air Force One on final [approach], we had to dispose of the animals.” Hancock’s men finished the dogs off with rifle fire, dumped them in a truck and then incinerated the bodies.
The facts established by this column are far more disturbing. We have spoken with the individual who first alerted the press, and we have reviewed the episode with Hancock, the White House, the Secret Service, the Sheriffs Department, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and the Helping Hands Humane Shelter in Topeka.
The incident began at 12:15 or a little before. This was one full hour before Air Force One landed, at 1:17 as scheduled. The dogs were then mating off to the side of Taxiway C. According to an airport worker they were fifty to one hundred feet from the taxiway, in the tall grass not far from the fuel storage area.