Of War and Peace
'In-Country-2', a photograph by Bob Lopes of a photograph left in a plastic bag during a rainstorm at the Vietnam Memorial Wall, 11/15/92. (photo: Bob Lopes/The Wall
Reader Supported News | Perspective
What did you do in the war, Daddy?
Which one, Child?
The one before I was born.
You were born into war, Child.
- John Cory -
ebastian Junger was on the Daily Show talking about his new book, "War." I did that "look inside the book" preview on the net and it was déjà vu all over again for me as I read this passage: "... the first night at the KOP, O'Byrne heard a strange yammering in the forest and assumed the base was about to get attacked. He grabbed his gun and waited. Nothing happened. Later he found out it was just monkeys that came down to the wire to shriek at the Americans."
No matter how much it all changes it all stays the same.
There was a place about five klicks off LZ Stinson between Vinh Loc and the Tra Khuc River we nicknamed Monkey Mountain. It wasn't a mountain really, more of a big pile of rocks and dirt and thran grass and banana shrubs. And it was home to a nasty, ill-tempered, sadistic commune of rock monkeys. The little hairy bastards would wait until dark then toss rocks at us. All night.
The FNG always yelled, "Incoming! Grenade!" We'd laugh and then tell him about the monkeys. The FNG stopped yelling so loud. But everyone knew that one night Charlie might actually lob a Chicom grenade alongside a monkey-rock and then we'd all be fucked.
Vietnam. Afghanistan. Same-same GI. Same-same. Love you long time.
What is war after all, but a classic love story - boy meets gun, boy falls in love with gun; boy and gun live unhappily ever after.
I spent a lifetime one afternoon with my friend Jack M. He was one of Brokaw's "Greatest Generation," a moniker Jack said was bullshit to sell books and had no meaning. Office door locked and a bottle of good bourbon shared between us, Jack pointed at the photos on the wall. The twenty-year-old kid version of Jack stood next to Clark Gable, movie star and bomber pilot - their squadron in WWII England.
One by one across the black and white faces from long ago, Jack conducted roll call. For some he smiled, for others, he spoke reverently, and for a precious few he wept quietly and whispered, "God rest their souls. I remember them as though it was yesterday."
A little over fifty years after the end of his war and over twenty years after the end of my first war, we sat together and remembered what we could not forget.
That war is beautiful should chill our bones. That war is ugly is too gentle an adjective for a process that rips apart human flesh and drowns our soul in blood. War is electric. War is anesthesia. War is vicious and mundane.
The savage nobility, the sacred rite of passage and bonding of war gets portrayed as one of the most intense religious and spiritual experiences a soldier can ever have in this life. We glorify that "band of brothers" fusion of war.
But no one ever questions what that says about us, our society, about how trust and faith and love in one another can only have profound meaning if experienced in the violent carnage that is war. Otherwise, it don't mean nothin'.
In October of 1969 we humped the Big Green wearing black armbands in solidarity with the first Peace/Vietnam War Moratorium. There were over 250,000 people in Washington, DC with an estimated 2 million people across the country in small and big towns who donned black armbands and paid tribute to the soldiers and civilians killed in the war. The Peace Moratorium was the largest demonstration in US history. All they wanted was to give peace a chance.
We don't need an Anti-War movement. We need a Pro-Peace movement.
The thing they never tell you, the lie of all lies, is that you can go to war and then come home.
Whenever I write about war, someone (usually a guy) will email me that I'm the reason that we (America) lost Vietnam and thank god things have changed and America now supports the troops - professional troops - not draftees and Communist hippies like me but real soldiers like the guys who won WWII.
Decades down the road we are still fighting Vietnam, still longing for the glory of the last good war, and still demeaning peace as un-American. War is our oxygen and our DNA. How can a soldier come home from war when we are still at war with ourselves?
And what of the REM Riots? My term for the nightmares that wake you in a cold sweat, chasing your breath because you don't know where the hell you are, the Rapid Eye Movements that leap and claw the darkness in search of escape.
What of the village child who wakes screaming at the growling rumble of passing aircraft, remembering the last time she heard that sound it brought her world to an end? Impersonal flying metal death with hi-tech targeting that mistook her parents for insurgents and her village as a safe haven for the bad guys. She wipes her frightened eyes with the stump of an arm where her hand used to be and promises revenge.
And what of the families who watch their spouse and parents go off to war - again. A third and fourth deployment while kids try to figure out where they fit in this society of family values and war. Which kid gives up their childhood to become the caretaker and consoler of the younger brood? Which child cries in the dark, afraid they will forget what their mother's kiss and hug feels like? Which child secretly steals the bottle of aftershave from the bathroom cabinet and sprinkles it on their pillow so at night they can smell dad and maybe dream of him?
My god how did the violent bonding of war become more noble and precious than the bonding of mother and child? Of father and child?
On 18 April 1945, Ernie Pyle was killed on a small island near Okinawa. A draft of a column he wrote for the end of the war in Europe was found in his pocket. Here is part of what he wrote: "... Dead men by mass production - in one country after another - month after month and year after year... Dead men in such familiar promiscuity that they become monotonous. Dead men in such monstrous infinity that you come almost to hate them."
We have come to accept the monotony of war, the mundane infinity of the dead, and the glory of the cause however vague, however deceitful, as long as it is wrapped in the flag like a soldier's coffin.
But something wicked this way comes. It is already happening, another Pinkville, maybe worse. Sy Hersh tells us it's out there like a diseased corpse waiting to be exhumed.
Don't tell me that war is inevitable, that we've always had war and we always will. That's a cop-out excuse to rationalize turning a blind eye to this garden of evil.
So what do we do, you ask?
I'm not an educated man and I don't have powerful contacts, but if you believe in "We the People" then surely we can ignite a Pro-Peace Movement. Surely we can encourage and vote for candidates who will stop funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And if that means a primary challenge to an incumbent - so be it. And we can send letters and emails and petitions to Congress and their staff demanding an end to war.
But here's an idea: A National Picnic For Peace Day!
Why not? We have Twitter and Facebook and blogs and the whole Internet to organize and schedule. Maybe have it on Labor Day? Why couldn't we fill Central Park, Griffith Park, the Mall in DC, Ghirardelli Square and local town squares across the country? 1969 was 2 million people - why not 5 million people today?
Veterans and their families, Union members and non-Union workers, come together in a giant picnic for peace. Mosques and Churches and their congregations.
How American would that be? Burgers and hot dogs and potato salad served up by we the people sharing photos of loved ones and stories of their dreams and hopes in life, even videos for the kids to see from their parent in Iraq or Afghanistan. Just a moment to touch the screen and pretend we're touching love. And who knows, maybe we can get people all around the world to share that day with us - from Amsterdam to Sydney to Kabul to Tokyo, what a message that would send. What a beautiful day that would be!
I know everyone is busy but let me ask you a question: If we're too busy for peace, aren't we're too busy for war?
I can see it in my mind. No politics. No Democratic or Republican signs or slogans. No Hitler pictures. Just a banner that says "Peace." And displays with photos and videos of our loved ones in and out of uniform and families sharing with one another and people celebrating life and hope.
Imagine all the people - to borrow from John Lennon.
Reply to An Open Letter From Daniel Fletcher - Peace Day
Thank you for being part of Reader Supported News and for your active participation in these forums. I do appreciate your comments and input and those of everyone here. I have included your letter below.
I understand your concern about the potential crass "commercialization" of a Peace Day. But wouldn't that be a wonderful worry? I'd rather have people shopping for Hallmark Peace Cards than shopping for caskets. If peace became as profitable as war, man wouldn't that be something?
I understand that a National Peace Day is a dream but we can make it a reality. Yes, it is only one day - to start. One day becomes two and then three and soon you have a whole week of Peace Days.
You spoke of a day of mourning for the ravages of war. Do we not already have those - Memorial Day and Veteran's Day that was originally Armistice Day? We have The Wall with its black granite mirror-like surface so that when you stand reading the names of the dead you can see your own reflection. And still we bury more sons and daughters.
I think we need to stop mourning the dead and start protecting the living.
I can't speak to your ideas on prayer. I'm not religious but I know many people who are and who find solace and meaning in their faith and I would never presume to speak for them. But I am sure that many churches would welcome a Day of Peace movement. They have in the past.
You may be right, the day after our celebration of peace, people will go back to business as usual. I don't think that means they forget and if they do - shame on us for not keeping in touch with them.
Folks used to send "care packages" to grunts in Nam. They sent soap and toothpaste and writing materials and shaving items and Screaming Yellow Zonkers. What a treat Zonkers were, I mean that black box with red, yellow and blue writing was a treasure of entertainment with such quips as "Open the top, and turn the box upside down. If the Zonkers fall out, this is the bottom. If they fall up, this is the top. If nothing happens, this box is empty." Funny, the things you remember from war.
In some packages came a card with a yellow sunflower logo that read: "War is not healthy for children and other living things." There was a medallion in the package I received and the organization was Another Mother for Peace. Supporters and volunteers included Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Robert Vaughn, Dick Van Dyke, Debbie Reynolds and Lauren Bacall among many, many more.
But AMP was Mothers who wanted nothing more than peace and ended up having a worldwide impact. Average middle-class mothers, a television writer mother, and artist mother that wanted to send a Mother's Day message to LBJ. I still remember them and I still have the medallion.
It won't be easy, getting a Peace Day. It will take a hell of a lot of work and organizing and communication and then - a miracle happens! But nothing happens if we don't try and nothing changes unless we change it. I like listening to Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee doing "People Get Ready" by Curtis Mayfield, a song that has a rich history of its own based on one man's non-violent work for equality.
One woman made a speech in 1851 Ohio that is forever remembered, "Ain't I A Woman." One woman helped the Underground Railroad free many. One man stopped the tanks in Tiananmen Square. One man led a Salt March that helped a nation gain its independence.
One person. One day. That's all it takes to start. Like Peggy Logue, a current mother for peace and her book, "Skin In The Game: Journey of a Mother and Her Marine Son."
You seem like a leader, Daniel. Maybe you are the person to start in your area?
You and I are veterans of war. We are survivors. Don't we have a moral obligation to push for peace the same way we pushed for terrain and survival, not only for ourselves but also for our men and comrades?
And in the end, is not peace forgiveness for all of us?
Take care, brother.
# Daniel Fletcher 2010-05-17 14:23
An open letter to John Cory:
Like you, I am a vet. I worry that your Peace Day dream will be co-opted rapidly. Hallmark Peace Day greeting cards; drink concessions at the picnics sponsored by Cokacola; Peace Day sell-a-thons at the local car dealers, etc. I worry that a Peace Day event will end up substituting for substance. What about the sharing of pictures of families and loved ones destroyed by our wars. Why not instead a day of mourning for all of the ravages of war...a day of atonement...a day for being mindful of the peaceful opportunities lost to collective violence. Why not a Memorial Day to remember all the victims of war and a day of prayer that we may aspire to the greatness we are capable of through peace. I urge you to consider the people who will celebrate peace day and then go about doing business as usual the day after. Yes, celebrate life but can we simply do so forgetting all of the life we've destroyed? Is it right to seek peace without seeking forgiveness?
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