|It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas|
Everywhere You Duck
Near The Demilitarized Zone, Vietnam 1967
(photo from Photobucket.com)
We knew all about the violent ambivalence about the war that was tearing our country apart, but we were pretty much immune--maybe numb is a better word--to all the noise. Marines at the DMZ didn't care about any of that--we knew we were in Hell and that, as we routinely put it, "Hell sucks." We just wanted out, we counted the days until our tours were up. We said of our dead that they had been "wasted." Not "killed." Wasted. Never did think about it much back then, but realize now how much pungency there was in the use of that word. Considering Vietnam's post-war shambles and the nearly 60,000 Americans (and many times that number of Vietnamese) killed in action during that ill-starred escapade--which I still regard as the defining screw-up of my generation--"wasted" is a word that more than applies, and not just to the dead.
So here we are a half-century later, still bogged down in wars that are saturated with political and economic and moral confusion. Considering that this seems to be a cyclical recurrence since perhaps the Korean War in the 1950s and certainly my war in Vietnam, you just have to wonder if this is built into our modern destiny. Do our Congressional reps stop to consider the relentless futility of their actions when they robotically re-authorize funding for these ventures? I mean, we left Vietnam with a superb complex of ports and landing fields and excellent buildings (I saw them when I visited in 2009) throughout the south that we basically handed over to our enemies. Same thing seems to be happening in Iraq, and no doubt will lead to a recurrence in Afghanistan.
As to the long term cost, Stateside? Just as so many of my generation of warriors came back with serious post-war issues, I note
that many veterans of our ventures in central Asia are having their own bouts with the traumas of battle. I know that combat in its own right will lend itself to psychological and emotional consequences, but my experience in Vietnam tells me that the overriding issues of fighting a war with much-contested moral underpinnings against an enemy that poses no direct threat to the United States leaves a residual ache that can be consumptive for some. It already started for me and my brothers-in-arms when we blithely referred to KIAs as having been wasted, when drug use by our troops became a common occurrence, and when our songs of the war were filled with sarcasm and contempt ("Jingle Bells, mortar shells, VC in the grass . . . take your merry Christmas and shove it up . . " well, you know).
|USMC Lance Corporal Me, 1966, Enroute To Vietnam|
(photo from battlestory.org)
Now I think about our combat forces deployed in central Asia and wonder if the incipient bitterness is beginning to creep into their souls. For some of the vets I've talked to, I know it has. That hangs some sorrow on me, mainly because I know it never really goes away. Such is the legacy of our political leaders who don't constantly examine and re-evaluate the basic assumptions that brought us here in the first place. My wish this Christmas is for Thune, Noem and Rounds to demand an answer to the question "why?" before they vote another dime of American money to sustain what seems to be a stone much larger than the one Sisyphus was forever condemned to roll up that hill. The myth to the ancient Greeks has become the reality to us modern Americans.