Please Don't Shoot the Orphans-a poem by Doug Rawlings

September 13, 2018

As the plight of immigrant children drifts in and out of our consciousnesses, we might need to be reminded that our military policies and actions have seriously impacted children’s lives throughout our history.  This poem begins with a note from the American war in Viet Nam and extends out from there. 

for Barbara Dudley
"... by day I rode a motor scooter out to US Military Assistance Command Headquarters at Long Binh, about 30 minutes on an empty road that had been the site of fire fights the night before.  Every morning I passed a beautiful if dilapidated French villa set back off the road which had been converted into an orphanage.  The hand painted sign in front of the villa read in English, 'Please don’t shoot the orphans.'" -- Barbara Dudley
Imagine if every city in our land of the free
welcomed travelers in with billboards reading:
"Please don't shoot the orphans"
Would that not cause the casual motorist to pause
and ask how were they orphaned?
Who were their parents? 
What did these parents do to deserve death?
Who meted out such a punishment? 
Who are these orphans anyways?
Imagine all the interstates in and out of our cities
clogged with cars brought to a standstill by
"Please don't kill the orphans" plastered on placards
their drivers stumbling out of their seats
onto the median strips crisscrossing this land
of the mobile and free to question
if not just for a minute
how their own busy lives can possibly be
intertwined with the lives of orphans
their hearts in their mouths when they realize
the hands on their steering wheels
the fingers dancing across their radio dials
hold the answer to those questions
                    —Doug Rawlings
                        7/15th Artillery
                        Bong Son, Vietnam
                        July 1969 — August 1970