Monday, May 28, 2012

What Is It Good For?

I was a sixties kid and of course I opposed war broadly and Vietnam specifically. In the right/wrong certainty of youth I saw anyone who joined the military as someone who didn't understand what they were doing. There were so many things I didn't understand.
Mom remembers she was reading the comics when she heard the radio announcement of Pearl Harbor. She remembers many male classmates enlisting.
I was assigned The Things They Carry for a class and I'm glad I was. I doubt I would have read it on my own. O'Brien writes about his choice to enlist. I remember he thought about all the young man who wouldn't be able to avoid the draft by going to college.
Yesterday and today I've listened to stories about veterans. The choice to enlist is motivated by so many things but one is economic. Mom enlisted just before Korea because she wanted to use the G.I bill. for college. I've been thinking about the difference in our experience of the military. She met my dad in the Navy. Her second husbands was a Marine. It's always been a source of pride. She never did get to college but she credits the accounting skills she learned in the Navy with how she got the jobs she did afterward. Her second husband did use the G.I. bill for a BA and MA in engineering. The G.I bill also supported low interest home loans, which was part of the growth of the suburbs and the middle class. People in my generation were more likely to go to college on their parents dime and for many it was a way to avoid the draft.
I've read some arguments for why we should not have gotten into the second world war but it makes a kind of sense to me. We were attacked. We were also attacked on 9/11 but the gulf wars have never felt as clear to me.
I don't really feel like I have any understanding about the generations that fought in the Gulf wars. It seems that many still go into the military for job training or the pay check. Which isn't to say that they don't also have reasons drawn from patriotism and ideals of service.
The transition back has never been easy and in many ways seem so much harder, which feels so wrong. There's been a lot of over due gratitude directed to Vietnam vets this weekend.
There's still so much I don't understand and I still oppose war broadly. I've been on the verge of tears, or in tears for the last two days. Some of the soldiers seem so young to me. Most of the stories are so heart breaking. And more than a few times I've felt angry.

The differences in our experience and understanding have been a source of tension between Mom and I. More so when I was younger. I get tense around flag waving and guns. She is quick to salute. She's had her flag hanging from her porch all weekend. But we both want the troops to come home now.
I am grateful to people who enlist because they believe they are fighting to protect my way of life. I've been trying to come up with a way to articulate why I am given my lack of support for war. I can't. I see them. I hear their stories. Gratitude is all I have to give.    

1 comment:

Cheryl Czekala said...

A few years ago, I went to the Commonwealth Club on the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love. (Thought I might meet some like-minded men my age, so silly.) Dr. David Smith, the founder of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic turned out to be the most compelling speaker, due to his sincerity. I will never forget him saying we treated our Vietnam veterans abysmally, and no matter how we feel about the wars, we must welcome our veterans back home and try to help them readjust. It's a conundrum, since the personnel sent in to war zones to fight are deliberately dehumanized before they're faced with the trauma of battle.
What IS it good for, indeed?