Monday, May 30, 2016
Oh, man, I have such conflicted feelings about this holiday. Fact is, though I'm not quite a pacifist, I'm pretty close to it. My criteria for sending our children to war seems to be quite a bit higher than most Americans. Many people said, "never again," after Vietnam. I really meant it but obviously, many Americans didn't because here we are embroiled in two wars that have each lasted over a decade.
We've been at war more often than we haven't been since our birth as a nation. That started with the Revolutionary War, of course. Eight thousand men died in combat in that one (the numbers from various sources don't agree and honestly, how could we know for sure?). Another, 25,000 or so died of other causes such as disease and 25,000 more thousand were wounded. What would have happened if we hadn't fought that war? Well, 100,000 plus lives would have gone on as usual and we'd be Canada, I guess. We'd have a Prime Minister and a Queen rather than a president.
Then we fought the war of 1812. Do you remember what that was about? I don't, not without looking it up. Presumably, we thought it was necessary and another 2,260 Americans died in that one. Then the Mexican War - 13,283 dead.
Ah, and then the biggie, the Civil War. Still the Number One Killer of American soldiers with 620,000 recorded deaths (two/thirds of whom died from disease rather than from combat). Another estimated 500,000 were wounded and 400,000 were simply listed as captured or missing.
We paid one hell of a price to remain the "United" States of America, didn't we? Was it worth it? We never have really become united again. All these years later, we are still fighting those battles. We have completely different political philosophies. The Confederate Flag is a source of contention. The South still feels aggrieved. The red states threaten to secede again periodically. Texas actually debated doing so in their most recent legislative session. Maybe this time we should just let them go. So, we have two countries, America and Reagan (the name proposed by one secession advocate). Maybe divorce would make us better friends than marriage has.
Twenty-five hundred people died in the Spanish American War. Then 46,516 in World War I and 405,397 in World War II. Of all our wars, the world wars were probably the most necessary. They were supposedly to make the world safe for democracy and it seems they did, at least as much as that was possible. We couldn't let someone like Hitler take over "our" part of Europe although we did let Russia control most of Eastern Europe and rule with a bloody hand.
The consequences of wars can't always be predicted. Korea, for instance, was a proxy war between us and China. We thought we'd found a reasonable solution when we split the country in two but now we're faced with a nuclear-armed maniac in North Korea.
My generation's war, the Vietnam War, was an enormous mistake from Day One. None of the excuses for why we needed to fight in Southeast Asia were valid. I believe the names on the Vietnam Wall (58,307) are there because of the egos of American presidents who didn't want to admit losing a war. That doesn't even include men, like my husband, who died of lung cancer in 1989, attributable to Agent Orange, by the Army who paid him an Agent Orange pension.
Since then we've had the first Gulf War with 1,565 deaths. At least, George H W Bush knew how to set a goal for ending the war and then stuck to it, which, if you're determined to fight a war, is the best way to do it.
Now we're in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria and where-the-hell ever. We call this the War on Terror. and it appears it will be endless. Almost 7,000 have died so far.
I have no clue why we are still in Afghanistan. Russia fought there until they were practically bankrupt and finally realized they had no clue why they were there either and got the hell out. Yet, here we are 15 years later, adding people rather than bringing them home.
And Iraq, what can you say about Iraq except it was one of the worst mistakes America ever made and accomplished nothing but totally destablizing the Middle East. Obama, whom I think of a judicious and reasonable thinker in most areas, can't manage to extricate himself. It's simple. You just say, "we're out of here....handle it as best you can...good luck" and let the chips fall where they may.
In between all these other wars, we fought many wars with Indians and wars with pirates.
It seems, America is a war-like nation whether we want to admit it or not.
None of this means, I honor our soldiers any less. They did what we asked them to do. Some of them had glorious motives about protecting our freedoms and others (like my husband) just tried to make it through alive.
Because, of course, soldiers aren't a monolithic group. They are as different as you and me. Some of them are genuinely heroes and some, not so much. Some were brave and some were cowardly. Some were kind and some were mean. Some were exhilarated by war and some were brought to despair by its awfulness. Some wore their medals proudly and some, like my husband, threw them in a drawer and never looked at them again.
Some came home to become responsible citizens and some didn't. I loved my bunch of Vietnam veterans but they were rowdy and reckless, drinkers and dopers, cynical and sarcastic. They wore their scruffty old flak jackets, not as badges of honor, but as visible statements that meant "fuck you".
And yet, there was something about their service that gave them a deep-seated sense of self-respect. They went when others didn't. They met their obligations to their country, if not eagerly, at least steadfastly. They risked themselves for their brothers. They marched courageously into a world of horror only a minority will ever experience. The ones who emerged were forever changed but forever bound to one another because only they can share the understanding of what it is like.
I give them all the credit in the world. I only wish our leaders didn't take advantage of them so casually and carelessly.