With typical human bravado and the common human sense of glorious achievement I opened the screen of an upstairs window and, as my wife watched admiringly (I assume), I released the great luna moth into the dusk.
The next morning this loveliest of all American flying creatures was found floating dead in a water basin directly beneath the window.
For some days now I have put it out of my mind, of course, and of course it refuses to stay put out.
My arguments in defense are ironclad. First, it was just a moth. Second, I had faithfully and carefully watched over the cocoon indoors for some months. I had kept it safe in a cardboard box where nothing (the hound, for example) could gnaw on it. I had provided sticks for it to climb up, when it chewed its way free from the cocoon. I had waited for the moth to flex its wings on the linen curtain (it takes a great moth some time to plump up, before it is ready to fly). I had released it at dusk, a favorable time to escape birds. I had done everything as well as I knew and no blame should attach.
Still, if I had not let the moth out when and where I did, the moth would not have drowned. Clearly I misjudged its readiness for flight, and I stupidly failed to think of the moth falling straight down into the tank of water.
I was a fine lad all around, but I did not foresee what was possible and what in fact occurred. And I am too busy now justifying my part in the tragedy (tragedy from the moth point of view) to entertain any other arguments that an objective observer might make.
Somewhere in another cardboard box I have a letter that Wayne Morse once wrote me when he was a leading, if not outrageous, voice of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. At the time of the letter we had dropped our little national fiction about sending a few advisers to Vietnam, and the signs were clear we were going to send enough troops to make it worthwhile to kill them.
Incredible as it seems, Sen. Morse wrote in his letter, he thought it entirely possible that before the matter was over with, we might lose dozens "or even hundreds" of American soldiers.
Nobody can be expected to foresee the future with any clarity, but I mention Morse's old letter to remind myself that even this most vociferous opponent of the Vietnam adventure never dreamed of the casualties to come.
Nobody took a dimmer view of Vietnam from the beginning than Morse, yet even he underestimated the cost.
One lesson everybody learns by the age of 20, if he is not fully learning-proof, is that disaster is common even when motives are decent enough and even when some or most of the elements have been taken into account.
The element that is not taken into account is commonly the very thing that drowns the moth or kills the soldier.