Winning Time for Motions
All the wars fought since the American Revolution began in 1775 cost over 1.1 million in lives. They were uniformed lives in service to our country. For want of a equitable motive, some rationale for carnage, they stepped up to thwart our enemies. At times they interceded to quell atrocities, injustices, even genocide. For this I salute them. I remember them today, I think of them in the back of my mind everyday.
Many Americans have just accepted that there are “evil doers” in the world and feel war is a necessary means of life. It is a means to some end. A peaceful world would be nice, but you have people like Vladimir Putin and young Moe Howard in North Korea stirring things up, threatening nukes, using Syria’s innocents as bargaining chips.
The other day I was faced with the proposition that every single war has been unnecessarily fought, that war in concept never finds a winner. The speculation was that, in the very long run, no one profits from war. Certainly there is a chain of causation, a manufacturing of fate to the wars. One can choose to be simple minded and unversed in history and say something like the Civil War could have been avoided. That it was not necessary, that 620,000 soldiers died in vain. Or they could pay attention in school, know their history and realize that Lincoln, his cabinet, coalition in the North and South did not go to war over night. I don’t know of a more volatile issue than the color of a man’s skin, his place in society and, and that time, if anyone be allowed to profit from it. My god, 152 years later a Civil War shrunk to scale is playing out with every shooting or beating from Rodney King to Philando Castile.
I grew up during the most volatile years of our time in Vietnam. I was born in February of 1965 when LBJ was seeking approval for Operation Rolling Thunder, his first sustained bombing raid over North Vietnam. For the next three years napalm burned everything over there and America’s anti-war movement grew. Thousands of men, younger than those in each world war, went to fight, many against their will. Many objected, stating religious reasons. Some simply weighed the morality of, the motives, the foresight their government had, and refused to go. They burned their draft cards. Many were prosecuted by the Selective Service. Many lived out the war in Canada.
When Nixon vowed, in 1970, to hit North Vietnam harder than Johnson ever dared I was five. Early the following winter I was struck by a car, suffering a “rather serious cerebral trauma.” From that moment on, my chances of being drafted to fight in any war were off the table. As thousands were flown to the other side of the globe to be disabled, I was disabled right in front of my house. My future though, my service in any military capacity, was rendered moot. When I was eighteen I registered with the Selective Service because a law said I had to, and for the purposes of voting. I remember a day in high school. I came home and got a call from an army recruiter. My first thought was what’s going on in the world. We were gearing up for an invasion of Grenada. Reagan wanted to send 2,000 troops there. I thought, the Caribbean, the island I visited on a cruise when I was four. My second thought was I’m disabled, why am I on the list. I heard the guy out, I had been taught to “give democracy its day in court.” The questions led though a rabbit hole, standard issue, but leading to a seemingly pre-determinded breaker. I intimated that I had a disability that would make it very difficult for me to be a soldier in any capacity. That said, the conversation abruptly ended. At various times following that call I have a vague recollection of other branches of the military contacting me. It is a mixed bag of reactions. Most of me loathed having to talk with them, going through standard questions to arrive at disabled. I had a curiosity, taunting them out of some vindictive sense for equal opportunity, to see if I could get past and show up for a physical. Then these great hucksters would have to look me in the eye and tell me why I could not be Radar O’Reily, why I could not sling hash on a tray or be quartermaster. Part of me resented being discriminated against, basically told I was useless in any job the military had to offer. It’s nice to be asked sometimes. Given America’s history at that point, with all the government’s lies, duplicity, cover-ups and ulterior motives, I see WWII as the last war to which I’d have lent my service. But I wasn’t alive and if I had been, disabled, I am quite certain that no one would have any use for me. I’d have been lucky to even have received the considerate — if not mandated — Selective Service call — and if grandma had wheels she’d be a trolley car.
For most of my life, fighting, running, dodging bullets, having the dexterity to march in or tote the weight of a weapon and field armor, having a fair chance of over-powering an enemy aiming a gun at me, has been lost for me, not in any picture, totally incongruous to who I am. But, as I wrote in my memoir Ten years and Change: A Liberal Boyhood in Minnesota, there was once a time when I could, if only for peer pressure’s sake, picture myself that way. Amid all the liberal teachings of my home environment, I added the paragraph to be honest, to reflect the world I knew as a kid:
“Buried deep in the deadened days of my first childhood, peeking culpably from the veils of jack-o-lantern plants, shuffled in the antitheses of boxes of DFL literature, cowering behind trash cans set on the small rocks of our back alley, there was gun play. When there were no roads to grade, new earth to taste or pretend Star Trek beam ups, I heard the sputters of “Tommy guns” as I or my comrades fell. I was the indulgent disciple of the older kid next door. For me then, majority ruled. My best friend joined their army and I was a peering face in the cross-fire…”
It was me then, when I was four or five. I was coordinated, quick, and might have, in some universe,made a good military man. I was though, if unprovoked, a pretty peaceful kid. I’m more peace oriented as an adult perhaps because I can’t even conceive of that world, a world in which I could be included in any kind of military action
Each Memorial Day I think about all who have answered the call to arms, for whatever reason, even if it was just because they took and oath (something I will credit them more now for doing than their commander in chief). I am a fair liberal and truly believe war is rarely the answer to anything. Dylan sang “the loser now will be later to win.” I am skeptical of the notion that anyone truly wins in the long-run from war. Vietnam was a losing proposition from about 1959. Fifteen years later, hours after the last helicopter left the US embassy, the NVA raised its flag above the Independence Palace. South Vietnam’s president Duong Van Minh surrendered to the Communists. The US had invested billions of dollars and 361,864 dead or wounded lives to buy South Vietnam a few hours of freedom. No one won, but in the long run, no one really lost. Yes, every war has a loser, and in this case it was the US and its allies, the Vietnamese, north and south. Yes, surrenderers lose in the books. Lee to Grant, Hitler to Ike. Slaves were free, a nation reconstructed. The Third Reich was put to rest, Jews were liberated from death camps. Life goes on, victory’s assets get better and worse.
To all those past and current fighting men and women I say, with maybe a little envy or resentment that I never had that option, thank you.