I was born and raised in the military. My family has a proud military tradition dating back generations. My entire immediate family has served in the Army, myself included. The only difference between me and my parents/brother is that I never went to war...
It wasn't until recently that I truly understood that fundamental difference. I asked my dad about the Vietnam War when I was a kid learning about it in school. I had seen Platoon and Apocalypse Now, and I was amazed that my father lived through the types of stories I saw on the silver screen.
"What was it like?" I asked him.
He regaled me with stories of marching through the swamps and forests. He explained what it felt like to be ambushed by the Vietcong military. He showed me some of the field manuals, and fed me the MRE field rations. I was excited to hear a first hand account from the man I idolized. My dad was invincible in my eyes, and it was incredible to hear. I asked him every question I could think of to learn as much as possible about what this war was like until finally I reached a question that was too much for him to handle...
"Did you ever kill anybody...?"
The smile suddenly disappeared from his face. There was a look in his eyes I had never seen before. At the time I didn't know what it was, but now I recognize it as a look of repressed anger, guilt, and fear. There was a silence for a few minutes as he decided how to answer this type of question to a curious 8 year old.
Finally he replied, "When 10 people are shooting into a bush, a lot of people died. You don't know whose bullet did it."
I wanted to press him further, but I could tell it wasn't a good idea. Wanting to move on from the awkwardness, I asked, "What was it like coming back?"
He told me about coming back from fighting in the war. When he got off the plane in the airport in his uniform with his platoon, he was so happy to be home. The celebration was short lived, however, because the Vietnam War was not a popular one in the United States. In the airport people spit in his face, called him a baby killer, and one woman even came up and slapped him in the face. I asked him why they did that...did he ever kill any babies? He explained the protests. He told me about how the media portrayed the war. The Vietnam War was the first war that was essentially televised to the entire nation. American civilians were introduced to the reality of war in their homes for the first time since the 1800's. The reactions were strong on all sides.
I could see the rage in his eyes during one story in particular in which Hanoi Jane was allowed to greet the American POW's. The Americans were expressly told by the Vietcong guards they are not to communicate any messages to her during the visit. Each prisoner secretly handed her a note, some with letters to their family, and some with information about the prison so to assist with the rescue mission. At the end of the line, she gave the notes to the guards and said she didn't feel comfortable taking part in espionage. The prisoners, as the story goes, were beaten and tortured for disobeying their captors, while Jane was looked upon in the military community as a traitor. To this day, my father will not watch any movie with Jane Fonda. He wouldn't even watch TBS or TNT while she was married to Ted Turner.
By this point, my dad told me it was time to go to bed. I was just a child, but I had learned quite a bit about the realities of war. I was excited to go to school and tell everyone what I learned...
Fast forward 14 years from our conversation...after the World Trade Center attacks when the US began our occupation of Afghanistan and 2nd war with Iraq.
There is a dividing line among the populace similar to the Vietnam War-era, however the economic and political climate has changed. Our society was no longer interested in open protests in the streets. Mass media and consumerism have taken such a strong hold on us that few of us care to even leave our homes. WiFi did not yet exist. Few cell phones even had color screens, much less web capabilities. Mobile web browsing was just a glitched pipe dream. Those with opinions for and/or against the war simply stated their opinions on internet forums. The world had indeed changed...
It was during this time that my brother was in the Army, stationed in Iraq. Many of my childhood friends were there with him in various capacities, from military to civilian contractors. My sister in law just had her 3rd child, and my brother was depressed about being stuck in Iraq, missing so many of his children's firsts...first steps/first words for the youngest, first day of school for the older 2. The stress of raising 3 children alone was difficult for his wife to deal with as well, so their marriage was severely strained. My brother would call me every couple of days because he needed someone to talk to that could provide moral support and remind him of what he's doing it all for.
I kept him up on pop culture so he knew what movies and music to get in order to stay current with what's going on at home. He told me stories of waking up to explosions and having to hide under the bunks, walking outside to see missiles hitting the ground 20 feet in front of him, random sporadic gunfire throughout the day, and the infamous camel spiders.
I sent my brother care packages with video games, magazines, movies, music, snacks, etc. We wrote each other letters, emailed, and talked on the phone whenever we could. I helped him with his DBA classes, tutoring him over the phone on the structure of Access databases...
My brother returned home to the US during a time when I was not on speaking terms with my family. We lost contact for a few years while he acclimated himself back to civilian life. It wasn't until last month when I returned to this small military town in search of deeper meaning that we renewed our fraternal bond. This is when I began to realize something.
I am more like my dad in a lot of ways personality wise, yet my brother is the one that followed in his footsteps. I chose a much different path through life. I chose to continue travelling, partly because remaining stagnant drives me insane and because I wanted to get as far away from the military life as possible. I'm not fully a pacifist, as I believe in self defense, but I don't believe in war. My father and brother, however have both fought in wars. They've seen everything firsthand. Because of this, they choose to remain in the comfort of home. Even in civilian life, they choose to stay near the military. These men have seen the evils of the world and it has instilled in them a fear of humanity that can only be obtained by serving in the war.
Just to jump on a soapbox really quick, I have to explain something. We can all sit back in our chairs and say what we would or wouldn't do in different situations, but these men in my family have encountered scenarios that the rest of us can only imagine from the safety of our homes. It's easy to scream "baby killer" at a soldier, but when faced with a situation in which you and 20 of your closest friends in the world are suddenly attacked by a group of 10 year olds with machine guns who only wish to see you all die, you will find yourself caring more about your own well being and that of your 20 friends. You will consider your family and the 20 other families that will be affected if you don't kill that 10 year old kid. That's not to say that there aren't US soldiers who have committed war crimes, because there are. What you need to understand though is that you are making generalizations based on facts and ideas of which you have absolutely no knowledge of and therefore no right to make moral judgments.
Anyway, that aside, the point is this:
War changes you forever. When you go to war, you not only witness firsthand, but you participate in the evils of mankind in ways you never thought you were capable of. A man who has been to war will never be the same. They lose their innocence, and in many cases, their sense of adventure. Many of them can not deal with this loss and in turn lose their sanity.
War is a disgusting and unnecessary act perpetrated not by soldiers, who are merely pawns, but by the 1% of humanity that holds all the cards. Whether religious, political, or economic, the reasons for war are a product of the beliefs driven down our throats from birth by the 1% of humanity that is in control of our destinies.
My father never had any personal problems with any Vietnamese people in his life. Hell, some of my best friends are Vietnamese, and he gets along with them just fine. My brother and I have known each other all our lives, and I've never once heard him use disparaging terms such as "dune coon" and "sand nigger" that are thrown around by the more brainwashed "patriots" of the US military. The wars they fought in were not their own.
So when you see news reports of the Occupy protests and find yourself wanting to mock those standing up for the greater good of all of us, know that these so-called "dirty hippies" are soldiers, just like my family. Only this time they're fighting for their own beliefs. There is a war on the general populace of the world, and we have been losing for far too long. Fight not for the beliefs of the 1%. Instead fight against the 1% wherever you are in this world. We are the majority, and there's strength in numbers. They should fear us rather than oppress us. We are the people...and people are power...
About the Author - Brian Penny creates awful music under the name Mr. Versable. He tweets under the name @Versability. He believes in true love, and won't rest until he's found his...oh, and his last blog cost Bank of America a whole lotta dough although not pointing fingers, but the typos weren't his...! Peace and love! haha ;)