It’s time to say “enough” to war
And so when thirty years from now our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm, or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say “Vietnam” and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory, but mean instead where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning. John Kerry to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 23, 1971.
Thirty years later, the lessons of Vietnam had not been learned and America hadn’t turned: first, Afghanistan and next, Iraq.
Nearly nine years later, the War in/on Iraq has been mercifully declared over but only after staggering costs in carnage and treasury.
When will we ever learn or is the answer, as Bob Dylan asks, blowin’ in the wind?
Is war inevitable as a result of a world populated by good and bad guys—we naturally wearing the white hats? Or is it a paroxysm each generation needs to experience, a larger scale and more violent form of teenage cliques and gangs?
During the Revolutionary War, Thomas Paine labeled those whose commitment to the fight was based on convenience “sunshine patriots.” Their 21st-century progeny are the armchair and bumper-sticker patriots that, as Cindy Sheehan put it, have no skin in the game.
With the draft ending in 1973, young men born post-1954 were free to pursue lives unfettered by a fear they could be impressed and sent into a battle. In lieu of stressing over one’s Selective Service classification or draft lottery number, they could, instead, focus on fantasy football and engage in heated discussions over which athlete is the best position player in any pro sport.
War, however, is no game: Young people, not graybeards, die and often are horribly mutilated. Given our all-volunteer military, those doing the suffering and dying come from families with a military tradition, heavy in the South, and the economically poorer class. Those with means need not apply.
In his statement Kerry asked, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
On April 29, 1975, the last two American casualties, Lance Corp. Darwin Judge and Corp. Charles McMahon, were killed in a rocket attack on Tan Sun Nhut airport outside of Saigon. How many died afterwards as a result of their wounds, physical or psychological, or another cause such as Agent Orange is indeterminable.
The flight from Vietnam was ignominious. Images of helicopters launching from the American embassy with panic-stricken Vietnamese desperately trying to board were harrowing.
Juxtapose that scene with the Times Square celebration 30 years earlier after V-E Day. The iconic photograph of the sailor kissing a young woman captures the moment.
Flash forward to December 2011 with the War in/on Iraq finally over after nearly nine years, eight after the capture of Saddam Hussein.
No celebratory gatherings, nor was there bedlam, only a subdued departure and a national afterthought that might be interpreted as a sense of relief.
For serious Americans, jobs and the economy are more a concern; for the frivolous, the delayed start to the NBA season and, of course, our very own Tim Tebow.
The acronym WMD—weapons of mass destruction—now finds itself in our lexicology as a result of our War in/on Iraq. It’s akin to SNAFU—situation normal: all f**ked up—of World War II vintage in that it too found its birth in war.
Calling the War in/on Iraq a snafu might seem to be trivializing it, but on the contrary, it succinctly summarizes it: AFU.
Kerry put what was happening in Vietnam into a larger societal context.
“We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai (massacre) and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum.”
That seemed to be our rationale in Iraq: We had to destroy it in order to save it.
The War in/on Iraq drained our treasury and remains a sizable portion of the debt the pushers of the war are now bemoaning. It exacerbated an already torn and fractious society.
Nearly 4500 young Americans dead; thousands more facing a lifetime of physical and psychological trauma; countless Iraqis likewise dead or permanently scarred; their country torn and likely descending into civil war with religious fanatics v. religious fanatics.
So it goes.
Iraq was a war of choice. Will Iran be our next killing field? Or has this generation had enough…for now?