Dalton Trumbo author of World War 1 novel "Johnny Got His Gun" wrote of Americans reaction to the Vietnam War: "Numbers have dehumanized us. Over breakfast coffee we read of 40,000 dead in Vietnam. Instead of vomiting, we reach for the toast." . We used to have that horror of war. We used to have that horror for senseless deaths felt around the world 11 November 1918, and for years afterward when folks stood together in silence when the bells tolled at 11:00 AM every 11th of November. This was the sacredness of Armistice Day. We have turned Armistice Day into thought-free platitudes about "Support the Troops" on this sanitized Veteran's Day.
I was asked, as a veteran to stand and be recognized in church this past week. There are so few veterans now. Less than 1 % of of us serves in the military, perhaps that is why it is so easy to send "them" off to combat. I never saw combat, serving instead as an officer in a reserve combat support hospital during peacetime. I was long discharged by the time we invaded Iraq. I remember being gut-sick and angry at our senseless invasion, based as it was on outright lies. I lost sleep thinking about the enlisted guys I served with. They were fine young troops, so many from the wrong side of the tracks so to speak. The Army was one way they could try and better themselves, learn a trade, get some help with education. They wanted to take care of their families. How many of these great kids died in Iraq/Afghanistan? Some of them I knew may have been killed. More likely, some of their children were killed there. 6,819 KIA in all. Officially: 52,104 wounded . Many so severely brain damaged they are counted as "wounded" only because their heart yet beats. Then there are those for whom PTSD has rendered them strangers to themselves and loved ones. Up to a million Iraqis/ Afghanis have been killed or wounded. Up to 20 veterans commit suicide daily. We reach for our toast.
We need to feel horror at both these wars, of all wars. I just finished watching "America's Vietnam War: 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition". It was hard to watch. This was your classic American war film full of stirring music and braggadocio--the kind of propaganda that gets the next generation killed. For a more accurate rendition of the horror that was our wrongful continuation of a French colonial war of occupation watch the PBS film "Vietnam: A Television History", especially if you can get the VHS version. I met Ron Kovic the subject of the film based on his book "Born on the 4th of July" at Kent State in 1977. We were protesting KSU's building of a gym on the site of the May 4th 1970 shootings. "Born" had just been published.
"Born on the 4th of July" should be watched by every congressmen before they vote in favor of the next war. Before invading Iraq based on Bush/Cheney braggadocio we should have, as the late Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia suggested before the Senate during the October 2002 pre-war debate, taken a long look at all the names on the Vietnam Memorial. Taken a long look in silence, without the martial music propaganda.
Every war begins with stirring martial music and patriotic speeches. Every war ends with "Taps" and weeping. . This Veteran's Day lets reflect in silence and the remembrance of senseless slaughter that was the original Armistice day.