WOSTER: No cheat code for war
A co-worker who recently bought a disc of music by the group Peter, Paul and Mary told me after she listened to it for the first time that she was surprised so many songs had anti-war themes.
Her surprise surprised me, because Peter, Paul and Mary were famous for “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” and other songs that were, in fact, anti-war. But those songs were sung in an era when the battles, injuries and deaths in Vietnam were escalating and battle lines for and against the war were being drawn back home. Folk singers and other artists of that period (yes, it is a generality) tended to come down on the side of those who wanted to follow the counter-culture advice to “make love, not war.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised. I came of age during that era, and I read in the daily newspapers and saw on the television screen images of war abroad and protest back home. That the images both on paper and on the screen were black-and-white made them no less vivid, whether the pictures showed tired soldiers carrying a wounded comrade toward a waiting Huey or young war protesters being pushed back from the streets by armed law enforcement officers. It was a turbulent, confusing, confrontational time. Those who didn’t experience it firsthand saw and read daily and nightly news stories about the battles, the casualties, the demonstrations and the division.
My co-worker, barely 30 years old, may have read about that time, but the histories aren’t the same as the events and the emotions, and why would she even imagine that a group of popular folk singers would devote so much of their music to a war that to her is as distant as the Battle of New Orleans or the Civil War? In the popular press of this day, it sometimes seems less space and air time is devoted to battles, even though the United States currently has many thousands of men and women serving in combat overseas.
War remains a serious thing. As I grow older and perhaps more pessimistic, it sometimes seems we no longer are a serious people, so many of us. A young man or young woman with the newest version of any popular combat-themed video game apparently can buy a cheat code to get to the end and win the final battle. Cheat codes aren’t available to those who actually go to war. They never have been. Battles must be fought in real time, by real women and men who kill, bleed and die.
Monday is Veterans Day across the land. It is the annual opportunity for those of us who enjoy freedoms and privileges every day of the year to pause and remember those who sacrificed to make sure those freedoms and privileges remain available to us. That’s as it should be, although our one day of pausing to remember hardly begins to cover the debt we owe those whose service goes on the other 364 days, or the debt we owe the families and friends of those who serve now and who served in the past.
Vietnam was my era, but I did not serve. Friends, classmates and acquaintances did. Many returned safely. Some returned wounded and scarred. Some didn’t make it back alive, including a college buddy who had the clearest, merriest blue eyes in the world. That soldier’s name is on the Vietnam memorial, joining about 58,000 others, all of whose names join the names on other memorials to those killed in the nation’s other wars before and after.
Beginning in 2001, South Dakota held memorial ceremonies for its veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. My strongest memories from those ceremonies are of how thankful the veterans were to have the rest of us remember them. From the oldest Marine to fight in the South Pacific to the youngest grunt to carry a weapon in Southeast Asia, they were thankful.
The reason for the memorial ceremonies was to honor and thank the veterans. I always marveled at the fact that so many of the vets thought they should thank us.