I was in a doctor’s office recently, when I saw, among the various diplomas from medical schools of the physicians in the office, a framed citation from Vietnam, thanking the particular doctor I was there to see. It got me thinking back about that war, which was a major protest event in my youth, over 30 years ago. But those are all memories and that war is over: What troubles me now is that when the soldiers who are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, they say the same exact thing that Vietnam Vets did: "We don’t know why we’re here."
I heard this sentence from returning Vietnam Vets of all kinds: Those who had been enthusiastically pro-war and even volunteered, those who had been reluctant to go but couldn’t figure out how to get out of it and those who were drafted (as a doctor friend of ours was), those who came back unscathed and those who came back terribly injured. While none of them were happy about the negative reaction they got when they returned home, I always thought it was interesting that such a disparate group of guys all said exactly the same thing.
As with our current wars, we kept sending surges of new troops over to that embattled territory, to no avail. In those days, they were killed by snipers who looked like sweet little women (and sometimes even children). In our current wars, they are maimed or killed by the same sort of ordinary citizens who plant roadside bombs that they set off when their jeeps and tanks drive by.
Will old men ever stop sending young men off to (often futile) wars? You would think that anyone who had ever fought in a war would do everything they could to prevent this from happening to the next generation. Is it some sort of crazy "I did it, so you have to do it too" idea? Is it a matter of gaining some sort of macho "manhood" feeling vicariously?
Whitley, like many men his age, remembers the men in his family talking about World War II when he was growing up, so he likes to watch the Military Channel occasionally. I was once watching it with him, while waiting to tune to something more "feminine," when I saw a grizzled old World War II veteran who said something that filled me with respect for him: "After I came home from D-Day, I could never stand to pick up a gun again." If only we had more men like him, perhaps we could stop this seemingly endless round of wars.