I'm not sure why but for the past month or so, I've been remembering something I wish I could forget. Two conflicts have scarred our national psyche more deeply than any other events in the history of the United States. The Civil War left virtually no degrees of separation because almost every family in the country lost someone to that conflagration. To this day, nearly 150 years after the surrender at Appomattox, we are still engaged with the ghosts from that struggle.
Incremental US Military involvement in Southeast Asia began during World War II and became an officially undeclared war on August 10, 1964, with the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (508-2) by Congress in response to an alleged attack by patrol boats from North Vietnam upon the US Navy in international waters. It wasn’t our first undeclared war based on complete distortion and outright fabrication, and it wouldn’t be our last; but that war and its protests eventually evolved into an expanded domestic culture war that left no degrees of separation and fifty years later continues to divide our country.
There are five old dudes who, each in their own way survived that time of tumult, a time that that I survived as well. Each of us took away our own experience. I am intimately familiar with mine yet I would never presume to understand the experience of these other men. All that I can do it to try to imagine and empathize. As I understand it,
Dr. Rodney Roe (http://open.salon.com/blog/pottery_doc),
David McClain (http://open.salon.com/blog/torman)
…and Steel Breeze (http://open.salon.com/blog/steel_breeze) all volunteered to serve in the US military…
…while Jeremiah Horrigan (http://open.salon.com/blog/jeremiah_horrigan)
…and I resisted and fought our own battle in the only way we knew how. I believe that David and Steel found themselves in combat while Art and “Doc” dealt directly with the bloody aftermath of that carnage. I’m not sure who got shot at when, where or how but I know that I’ve never experienced anything like that kind of lethal chaos.
All of my brushes with mortality were random, nearly accidental events that I mostly brought upon myself. Only one, a night in Houston, Texas when I came out on the bloody end of a five second, one-sided knife fight, could be described as combat. Five seconds is all I know of mortal combat, which is more than most people but nothing compared to the experience of these veterans. It took me over two years before I got out on the other side of my personal physical trauma, I can’t imagine what the aftermath of their struggles might have been.
While Art, “Doc,” David and Steel did their tours of duty in Vietnam, Jeremiah and I made our own hard choices which put us at odds with that vast silent majority of Americans who mobilized to elect Richard Nixon President of the United States in 1968 and again in 1972. We all live with those choices and I’d be willing to bet that none of us would have done anything any differently. I’d also be willing to bet that all of us hope that our children and grandchildren never have to face that kind of choice in the future.
With any luck in another twenty or thirty years the “silent majority” and our “culture wars” will have gone the way of the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party, “Tea Party” Republicans, the Know Nothing Movement and the “Whiskey Rebellion”… sad footnotes of prejudice and public outrage in American History born out of the fear of change. Aside from some progressive legislation, the one good thing that came out of that insanity is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. As long as the over 58,000 names on the Wall remain legible, Americans of every generation will remain overwhelmed by that terrible beauty. Would that our politicians had some shred of a soul so that they too could remember and learn.
I’ve probably missed some men and women who served during the tumultuous years of that sorry outrage; but with all respect to one and all, the Wall:
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