Combat is for the young, who have mountains of time and for whom the years mean nothing. A young man may feel immortal, but a body bag doesn’t have room for such a delusion. Reality registers quickly in combat and options must be weighed: he cannot desert, for all that’s out there is the enemy and the jungle. If he decides the stockade is preferable to death, he is abandoning his brothers and forfeiting his honor.
The perpetual conundrum of the old men who declare war is how to get the young boys to commit to the battle field. They have solved this conundrum by selling young boys on a counterfeit cause: freedom. War is somehow always about freedom, whether it is insuring it, or making the world safe for it; the men who spin these yarns preach that the only way to insure freedom is to liberate the villages, liberate the towns, and liberate the cities.
We did that in Nam. We would send in mortars to soften up a village and then spray it with machine gun fire before occupying it and killing whoever we suspected might be the enemy. After the patrols, some of us would wash away the memories of such philanthropic antics with tumblers of Johnny Walker.
I vividly recall guzzling a pitcher of Manhattans and looking up at the television set to see President Nixon making an urgent address to the nation. His words were clear, emphatic, concise, and complete bullshit. “We are not now, nor have we ever, bombed the country of Laos” . So I finished my drink, rolled a nice fat joint, and went outside to smoke it, because it was 8:45 now. The Air Force usually started the napalming of Laos about nine. I didn’t want to miss the show. After all, how many people get to see bombs that don’t exist?
It has been six years now in Iraq, long past the six weeks or six months that the war makers predicted. The people whose country we have occupied did not have links to Al Qaeda and they were not responsible for blowing up the World Trade Center. We have long since given up finding the weapons that we were told they had. We have forced two million Iraqis to leave their country and have killed, by most accounts, a million more. We have obliterated their bridges, hospitals and schools. We have succeeded in getting four thousand brave Americans killed and we have managed to get seventy thousand more maimed at a cost of what could ultimately be three trillion dollars.
The Iraq War is a national travesty that brings to my mind a distant echo, an echo that reverberated in my brain much too often in Viet Nam.
[Excerpt of an article by William P. O’Connor, who enlisted and served in the Vietnam War.]