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Dan Cetinich: Gone But Not Forgotten

October 3, 2016
Dan Cetinich and me, July, 1994 in Rutland, Vermont

Dan Cetinich and me, July, 1994 in Rutland, Vermont

Daniel Frank Cetinich – May 5, 2015

Daniel Cetinich, 72, author, historian and retired City College Instructor, died at home of pancreatic cancer. Born to Palma and George Cetinich in Portland, OR, he was a graduate of USF and SFSU, and a long-time resident of Berkeley. He was a Peace Corps teacher in Tunisia in the 1960’s. He had an exceptional mind and a lifelong interest in politics and world culture. Just months before his passing he published his first novel, Paris Illusions. He is survived by his wife of 40 years, Dana Bass, his son, Aaron Bass-Cetinich(Cartitiane Malheiros), granddaughter Ella, brother George Cetinich(Maria), sisters Frances Cetinich and Jacqueline Shook(Robert) and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents and his sister Rosemary Farac(William).

Published in San Francisco Chronicle on May 15, 2015- See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/sfgate/obituary.aspx?n=daniel-cetinich&pid=174850028#sthash.Zdbsaviv.dpuf

 

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A Wonderful Friend

The above is Dan’s obituary just after his death in May, 2015. I had meant to write something about my dear departed friend but apparently whatever it was got lost in the shuffle so to speak. I know he would forgive me for only getting around to it now. Even though we rarely saw each other since the mid 1970s, he was such an integral part of my life – and I of his that – like a few other dearly departed fast friends – that it is impossible to forget him, nor do I try. To have had friends like Dan Cetinich, Scott Keating, Jack Galvin, all dead but not forgotten…I have been pretty lucky. We all grew together, stumbled and got back on our feet together, personally, intellectually, politically. It might not sound credible, but after our common experiences, the fact that we hardly saw one another “in the flesh” hardly mattered. We’d left our marks on one another, they were deep; Dan was foremost among them

Everyone should have a friend like Dan Cetinich in their lives

Dan and I met in Peace Corps in Tunisia.

We served at the same time, were in the same group; it was a rather large one, several hundred that included architects, pre-school teachers and English language teachers and it was there that we became friends. Dan and I were among the latter group. He taught outside of Tunis in La Marsa, I was at what was called L’Institute Bourguiba des Langues Vivantes, or as it was known in English, simply “Bourguiba School” – named after the country’s first president, Habib Bourguiba who shepherded the country’s independence in the 1950s and who was during the years we Peace Corps volunteers were there, 1966-1968, still the country’s president.

We had many adventures, fine times together those years and then after our Peace Corps service ended, we found each other for several romping weeks in Paris. The next few years I’d see him in Portland, home of his family and in the early 1970s, I visited him (and fellow return volunteer, Bob Stam – now of NYU University) in Berkeley, California. In the summer of 1971 (I think – it might have been 1972) he came from Berkeley, California to Grand Junction, Colorado by bus to visit me for two weeks. Nancy and I spent that summer, nearby Grand Junction, in Paonia, Colorado on Stucker Mesa. After that we saw little of one another but were in touch by letter, something that continued even after the age of email until a few years before his death.

Intellectual Twins

Dan Cetinich was, among other things, my guide to the European Renaissance. He knew it by heart, its literature, history, cultural achievements and guided me to such authors as historians Henri Pirenne, Marc Bloc, and ultimately Fernand Braudel (and from Braudel to Wallerstein). It was with Dan that my interest in the Great Plague, “the Black Death” of the 14th century came alive, as did the world of Venice in that period. We also spent a good deal of time reading and discussing those great 18th century philosophers, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Montesqieu and an earlier one Michel de Montaigne, the great moderate Catholic thinker and essayist (who figures in Robert Merle’s Fortune de France that I have written about elsewhere). Dan was more than a simple “film buff’; he was a film connoisseur of the first order, understanding not simply plot but the structure of film. I learned so much about film from Dan, he was my eyes, my guide to those symbolic French filmmakers, Godard, Resnais, the Italian, Fellini, none of which I would have been able to understand without his insights and help. And if I can explain them today to my wife Nancy and others, it is only because Dan, in large measure, helped me understand, have me valuable insights in terms of what I was looking at.

After the Peace Corps experience, we both became Marxists of one kind or another and stayed so in spite of all the ups and downs, the stupidity and factionalism of so many who embraced the philosophy of that great 19th century thinker …and I will remain such “until the end.” That said, it was Dan Cetinich before anyone else I knew, who saw through the “Potemkin Village” that was Soviet Communism, who understood that Maoism in its more shrill phase in the 1970s was a movement that was veering to the right as its rhetoric moved left (seducing many a naive American leftist). His support of socialism did not extend to Stalin’s Soviet Union, nor Mao’s China, and was, in that way as in others, a man before his time. I could not counter his well-studied arguments and never did. Instead I thought long and hard about what he had to say, and when I made my break with the more orthodox forms of Marxism, certainly my discussions with Dan had much to do with it. Given his deep attachment to his Croatian origins (the family came from near Dubrovnik) he also saw, and helped me see, the prelude to the breakup of Yugoslavia…and saw in it a prelude to what would transpire in Iraq and Libya.

Amilcar, Tunisia, not far from La Marsa where Dan Cetinich lived as a Peace Corps volunteer

Amilcar, Tunisia, not far from La Marsa where Dan Cetinich lived as a Peace Corps volunteer; Actually La Marsa is in the background, behind this field which has produced wheat for Europe for 3000 years…

Dan’s Finest Moment: Standing Up To Hubert Humphrey in Tunis

There is one memory of Dan that stand out though above all other, and which sealed our friendship forever. It happened in Tunis in February, 1968, just after what is referred to as “The Tet Offensive” in Vietnam. That offensive, which resulted in so many deaths, proved that the Vietnamese resistance which the U.S. media liked to think was dead and gone, defeated, was in fact alive and well. The fact that the Vietnamese communists could launch such a broad-based offensive was an international embarrassment for the Johnson Administration. There were already 500,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam and the American war effort had failed. Johnson was caught in a bind: send more troops and risk splitting domestic sentiment  or start withdrawing and admit defeat and the shame that came with Washington’s inability to defeat a Third World adversary. Caught in that dilemma, Lyndon Johnson sent his then Secretary of State, Dean Rusk to Asia and his Vice President, Hubert Humphrey to Europe and the Middle East to consult with allies. Much later I would learn that Humphrey and Rusk were polling the allies as to what would be the domestic response in their countries if the United States escalated the Vietnamese conflict to include the use of nuclear weapons to reverse the course of the military situation on the ground. Of this I would only learn years later.

What we knew among the Peace Corps volunteers in Tunisia is that the Vietnam war was continuing and that Humphrey’s visit to Tunis would be good time to express our (our = U.S. Peace Corps delegation in Tunisia) concern and opposition to that war. To that end, we circulated a petition which many, if not most, of our fellow Peace Corps volunteers signed and in a number of incidents that in retrospect were rather comical (and written about elsewhere), we tried to give the petition to the Vice President at different moments of his Tunis visit. It appeared that he was quite annoyed with us – and with the Tunisian students who, risking life and limb, demonstrated during the visit against the war in Vietnam, although Saigon, Vietnam is 9847 kilometers (6119 miles) away from Tunis. Upset to find anti-war demonstrators everywhere he went, be they Tunisian students or American Peace Corps Volunteers, Humphrey left the U.S. embassy in a huff (where he was also demonstrated against) for the airport, intent on leaving all that opposition to U.S. war policy behind.

But it wasn’t over.

Unbeknownst to his fellow Peace Corps’ demonstrators, on his own initiative Dan took himself to the airport. As Humphrey walked through with his usual entourage of body-guard and State Dept. flunkies, no more than 25 feet away Cetinich hollered, “Murder of Vietnamese! End the War!” (or something to that effect). It was a fitting kick in the pants for the VP, a kind of send off that I would imagine he never forgot. Dan was immediately arrested by the Tunisian authorities for ethical outburst and put in prison. He related how the Tunisian police got very suspicious when, in response to their interrogation, he admitted that he had “studied Russian literature” in college – a sure sign of a subversive! After a few days, due to the intervention of the Peace Corps Director, Fran Macy (husband of Joanna Macy who would make her mark later as an anti-nuclear Buddhist activist), Dan was released. We, his fellow volunteers, were so proud of him, of his courage, and what easily could have been his sacrifice… for peace.

Later I would learn that wherever Rusk and Humphrey went – Germany, S. Korea, Tunisia – that they were told by U.S. allies that if the U.S. nuclear weapons would be used against the Vietnamese that the governments involved would not be able to control their populations that the reaction to the use of nukes would be so violent. I also learned that it was not only in Tunisia that Peace Corps volunteers demonstrated against the Vietnam War but all over Africa, a kind of opposition that to my knowledge never happened either before or since.

No one represented that commitment to peace, to an end of a horrific conflict, that of the U.S. war against Vietnam, more than my friend, Dan Cetinich

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2016 11:09 pm

    What a fine guy, and how lucky for you to have this friend!! But you know, Rob Prince, you are this to others.

  2. margy stewart permalink
    October 3, 2016 11:09 pm

    This is a wonderful eulogy, Rob. How glad I am that there was such a person in the world–and so glad the two of you were friends for so long. No wonder Humphrey skedaddled out of Tunis!

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