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.

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  1. its not old men who send
    its not old men who send young men off to die in war, it’s all of us who put up with a political system, that removes all the options that young men have to work or go to school, instead of join the military.

    It’s become extremely hard for young men to make their way in the world now, especially minorities and the poor, who make up the bulk of the military.

    I remember a friend in high school, who was kicked out for not having his shirt tucked in. Unable to work or go to college, within a year he was drafted and dead.

    People have as much luck making sense of war, as they do anything else in their lives, most just ignore their inner selves, or self medicate. So, it’s no wonder, we keep doing the same things over and over again.

  2. America has a big heart
    America has a big heart because You saved the world in WWII.
    You and Britain and the other english speaking countries.
    You could not fight the nazis without picking up a gun.
    If You evolve a democracy flooded with extremely rich politicians surrounded by lobbying donating corporate friends who runs the media, the voter has a lot of trouble making the right choise. And then bad things happen like wars/economic crises and soon ecologic+energy+climate crises and eventually resource wars. Nixon and G.W. Bush didn’t elect themselves, someone voted for them.
    We must choose a road which has a heart. War or no war. I trust people will do that 😉

  3. From the time children are
    From the time children are young, they are trained to be soldiers. I am not sure if they have “girls’ toys” like this now, but little boys have always been able to dress up in miniature soldier’s uniforms, and run around with toy guns, pretending to kill the “bad guys.” (Every time I hear some soldier talk about “getting the bad guys,” I want to ask him—or her—-“What are you, ten years old?”) The U.S. military develops first person shooter video games which allows people to play against one another online—-with both sides perceiving they are the “good guys” (Americans) and the others are the “bad guys” (whoever we are currently at war with.) ROTC is back on college campuses, and even high school ROTC has made a resurgence. The military recruiters promise excitement, education, travel—–never mentioning the recruits might also have to kill or be killed. Recruiters attend sporting events, parking big military trucks outside of stadiums to attract young people who like the hardware. Education, health care, environmental protection—-all are on the block when it comes to cutting spending—-but never, ever the military—-at least in no significant way. We are a crazed, militarized culture which eventually will be viewed by historians as completely reprehensible, and a blight on the community of nations. American culture is so tied up with war that if by some miracle our governmental leaders would foreswear the barbarism of war, the masses would demand it. I’m afraid that it is already far too late for the United States to return to any ideals it may have once had.

  4. well,russia was needed to
    well,russia was needed to ‘save the world.’ The idea that the USA could go it alone is incredibly silly and stinks to high heaven of ‘American Exceptionalism’

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