My own recollection of wars, begins with my father’s reported experience as a new young lieutenant being spared fighting, as he was about to be shipped off, by the WW1 Armistice in November of 1918. That war was also made vivid to me by a trip as the teenage driver of the chaplain to the princes, “Tubby” Clayton:

to the scene of the deadly battles of Ypes:

in Belgium where countless young men were slaughtered in pointless charges into no man’s land from their trenches. One of these had been maintained, as had many, many miles of graves with stark white crosses along the roads through the gently sloping fields of Flanders.

A young officer — often a mere teenager — was obliged to lead his troops over the top and, thus, was the first shot and killed by the waiting enemies across no man’s land — filled with blood, guts, and bacteria where new batches of wounded would meet their fates. Millions died pointlessly in that war — the “lost generation.”

WW2 was as horrible in its way with mass killings of civilians by both sides. First the German Blitz on London — not a military target, but designed to defeat the Brits with terror. I worked with teens as a teen myself in the East End of London (where poorer people lived and where the Germans focused their bomb raids — looking for the bend in the Thames and then unloading destruction east of this landmark.

Later we retaliated with fire and nuclear bombings of major German and Japanese cities — Dresden, Berlin, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki –which created fire storms which swept civilians into the conflagrations or annihilated them with nuclear blasts and fallout:

Read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five; he was a Nazi prisoner there:

We Americans were spared direct attacks on our homeland, but our beaches on the east coast were smeared with oil from our tankers sunk by German wolf packs. One of my uncles as a teen enlisted in the Merchant Marines and experienced the terrors of our sailors (he had a bad back and could not qualify for the regular military). Another uncle survived an incident in which all the others than himself were killed by the direct hit of a German shell on their tent in Italy. Both my uncles survived the war physically, but lived lives scarred by what we now know as PTSD — neither went back to graduate from high school or on to college as had their five sisters.

As a nation we were all together in that war effort. Boy Scouts gathered newspapers and milkweed pods (for life jackets). Our front yard at the base of Avon mountain held an aircraft warning station manned 24/7 in two hour shifts — one of many thousands scattered across the country. We watched fighter planes in training over the valley to the west — one crashed and kids brought pieces of it to school to share the next day — the pilot killed and his body destroyed in the crash. Businessmen worked night shifts in the local factories. The foundations of the civil rights movement were laid down as African Americans were gradually allowed equal roles in the military or joined in the war effort in our northern factories to which they migrated from southern share cropping labors.

The Korean War would have been mine — I had completed two years of NROTC officers training in college when Eisenhower ended it off, allowing me to move on as a civilian rather than a warrior on the seas off the Korean peninsula. We still all felt an obligation to do our duty and joined in the war effort one way or another.

The momentum of these previous wars carried us into the madness of Viet Nam where a slogan — the “domino” theory — to the effect that not fighting the war would turn the whole of Asia communist overrode common sense. Nearly 60,000 American military men had died before we regained out sanity — and many millions of Vietnamese, their land now poisoned by Agent Orange laid down to destroy enemy cover in its jungles.

At one point we had more than 1,000,000 troops engaged there. One may find fewer numbers recorded in the histories, but one of my students was a soldier involved in keeping track and he reported that the actual figures were far higher than publicly proclaimed — more than a million at the Tet Offensive which was disastrous for us. We westerners cannot really cope with suicidal troops without overwhelming force on our side — the kamikaze suicide bombers of the Japanese during WW2 had harried our naval forces:

Another negative of our commitment to the Vietnam war was the exemption from the draft of college and graduate students — until a universal draft lottery was finally introduced on January 1, 1970. I was that year visiting at Barnard, Columbia, and CCNY and the threat that loved ones now might now be drafted into the slaughter stunned my students and unleashed the riots on college campuses and elsewhere that rang the death knell for this pointless war. Unhappily the ‘draft dodgers’ from that war (Bush, Cheney) are now the ones who have so stupidly led us into the ones now being dragged out in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those who have not experienced war first hand have no idea how destructive it is to force men to kill or be killed — and that it is innocents who are the primary victims of our modern wars with their weapons that can not discriminate at a distance between enemies and innocent women, children, and elderly.

But as the Monitor article intimates below, typical Americans today may be more engaged it trips to the mall with their over stretched credit cards than responsibility for our troops being killed and killing over there — the countless thousands horribly trapped amidst the civil wars that we have stirred up in Afghanistan and Iraq? We have not even been paying to support the widows and orphans of our own dead and maimed, let alone facing up to the crippled futures of our ‘enemies’.

Lest we forget, after Viet Nam we dumped 300,000 young American military out on our streets and often into our prisons when they were given “undesirable” discharges after we had drafted them out of high school to play our killing games in Vietnam. Most of these had not committed ordinary crimes — they had violated military protocols either by becoming addicted to the drugs readily available to them between killing missions or had slugged a superior in an outburst of frustration. I repeat that number — 300,000 — which I remember vividly, as I spoke to the ACLU board back then on behalf of amnesty for these crippled ones — voted by the board, but not by our Congress!

We now hear that the numbers of homeless Iraq veterans are mounting:

“According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, nearly 200,000 American veterans are homeless on any given night, and over 400 of those homeless veterans served in Iraq.”,15202,96237,00.html

And the killing goes on? Ed Kent]


Few Americans share Iraq war’s sacrifices
Some say US citizens need a war tax or a call to national service. By Gordon Lubold

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 718-951-5324 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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