November 1, 2017War/Babies
For an American to think about war is a lot like the French thinking about wine or the Italians thinking about pasta. Too, the French love wine, the Italians love pasta, and we love war. And we’re very, very good at it.
Officially, I was a war baby, born at a time when one war was ending and another was about to begin. When you went to the movies in those days they had “News of the World” news reels somewhere between the cartoon and the movie, and for what seemed like forever there were film clips of the war (called a “conflict” and never a war) in Korea.
For boy kids war was always the play of choice. We had wooden and plastic guns and we went out to construction sites and fought in the foundation holes and dirt mounds of what would eventually become new houses. It was rigorous play as we rat-a-tatted each other and threw dirt ball grenades. One of those dirt balls caught me on the top of my head one day – a minor injury requiring no stitches but I walked home with my face covered in blood. There are reasons why young mothers get gray hair.
Our play was different when Vietnam came along. President Kennedy was sending soldiers there as advisors and that seemed okay. There was a lot of worry that if Vietnam fell to the communists everything else would fall and before you knew it you’d have Queen Elizabeth serving tea to Ho Chi Minh. That didn’t seem okay.
For boy kids you suddenly found out you had to register with the Selective Service. After doing that you had a number and the number determined your probability of being drafted. Gradually, war began to lose its fun aspects. Vietnam was hot and humid and nobody likes that. Every night we saw protests on the news and we heard about body counts and if, as Ken Burns says in today’s “Vietnam,” we were being lied to about everything, the escalating carnage of war was something that couldn’t be hidden.
We took a little break, though, after leaving Vietnam, but, never content to leave aggression alone too long, we launched Operation Urgent Fury in 1983 and invaded Grenada. As with most wars, very few Americans knew just what we were doing in Grenada, although we must have done it well since we were only there a few weeks.
Then in 1989 we began Operation Just Cause (aren’t all our causes just?), and took out the regime of President Manuel Noriega in Panama. This isn’t meant to be a history lesson, but I sometimes wonder if all those war games we played as kids weren’t behind some of this. Maybe it would help if we stopped giving all these conflicts those cute names.
For example, Operation Desert Shield began in August of 1990 and ended in January of 1991 when it gave way to Operation Desert Storm that same month as we kept Iraq from annexing Kuwait. These conflicts, victorious though they were, had consequences, of course, primarily the loss of what we call “troops and treasure.”
Finally, as a result of the catastrophe we now refer to simply as “9/11,” perpetrated by a number of citizens of Saudi Arabia, we decided to take on Afghanistan – failing to learn from an earlier Russian invasion of that country how hopeless that task could be. Funny thing, hardly any questions were raised about why we didn’t go after Saudi Arabia.
So we’ve kept busy polishing the expertise of our troops and keeping our arsenal in tip-top shape. Right now we’re licking our chops over North Korea, although our top leadership has suggested we might need to – militarily – slap Venezuela upside the head a little bit. You know, a little training exercise. Sometimes the damn to-do list just won’t quit.
Which is to say that, when you have an ethic that allows you to view the world’s problems as solvable at the point of a gun, and you actually go out there and try to solve them at the point of a gun (this latter word, of course, a monstrous metaphor for all manner of weaponry) is it any wonder that, domestically, you feel the same way, that you worship the gun and that you view it as your ultimate redeemer far more than any theological nostrum? Or that, on occasion, various of our citizens actually engage that redemption as a solution for perceived evils?
Keep in mind that, today, a sixteen-year-old child has never known a United States that was at peace. Normal, for them, are wars, atrocities, bloodshed, and body counts.
War babies. It appears that the torch has been passed to a new generation.
G.K. Wuori © 2017
Photoillustration by the author