Much of the history of our country is defined by our wars. Our connection to most of them is the stuff of history books, movies and novels. The Revolutionary and Civil Wars seem distant, and the last WWI combat vet died earlier this year, at age 110. But the more recent wars live on with the survivors who walk among us. The defining war of my generation was Vietnam. It’s a topic that kept popping up during my recent trip to Costa Rica (CR). (See previous blog).
On the flight down I was sitting next to an Asian lady and we got to talking. Turns out she was one of the Vietnamese boat people who escaped the country as it was falling to the Communists. She told me the fascinating story of her journey. After many days at sea, her boat of 40+ people capsized near the shore of an Indonesian island. She recounted how she thought she was drowning, but was pulled to shore by the island’s natives, who took them all in (no one died). After several years on the island, her parents arranged to come to the U.S. and she built a solid life here. Many of the Vietnamese poker players I've met have similar stories.
One of the people I’ve met and enjoyed spending time with in CR is a retired two-star general named John Granger. He had extensive Vietnam duty and an amazing career. Among other stories, he related to me the saga of his adopted daughter, whom he rescued from a pile of dead villagers, nursed to health and managed to get back to the U.S., where she has grown up to be a fine citizen.
While in CR I did a lot of reading. One of the things I happened to pick up was Up Country, by Nelson DeMille, a novel about a man returning to Vietnam on a modern-day secret mission and reliving his combat experiences. It’s an excellent, but chilling book that I recommend to everyone, especially the younger generation who could gain some perspective on what those times and that war was like, and what the soldiers of my generation went through.
When I was in high school I remember being in our local bar (yes, I was in bars in high school, and was even legal at the end of senior year) and seeing the older guys who had been to ‘Nam. I had known them before they went and most were normal teenagers, but their adolescence ended quickly. When they came home they pretty much stayed to themselves and got drunk every day. The ones who would talk to me about their time there told some chilling tales. Everybody of draft age was afraid of being sent there to fight and die.
When my draft year came around, I ended up with one of the lowest (worst) numbers. I wasn’t of a mind to dodge the draft, at least at that time, and was in real danger of being shipped off. The war ended just in time. I haven’t always run good in my life, but I did there! I often think about how I and my life would have changed had I gone to war and survived. I know a lot of guys slightly older than me who were there, and it will always be with them, especially those who were in the real bad stuff.
Another book I read while in CR is The Next 100 Years, by George Friedman, a very well-respected scholar. He deals mainly with geopolitics, the forecasting of changing world political power. The point he makes that really caught my attention is his theory that America’s strategy to remain the world’s dominant power is to find ways to keeps other countries in a state of conflict with each other so that they don’t have the opportunity to form alliances that could become powerful enough to challenge us. He purports that we really don’t care so much about winning wars such as Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq as much as we want to keep them going. The more unrest there is in other parts of the world the better it is for us.
When I was a naïve young kid I understood that there was evil in the world, but believed that people in power in America would never do anything that cost unnecessary lives. How wrong I was subscribing to that bit of idealism! The super-wealthy have little compunction about safe-guarding their super-wealth by sending others’ kids off to war. I don’t know what would have happened to me had I gone to war, but I’m sure that if I had gone I wouldn’t have been fighting or dying next to the son of one of the people who made the decision to send us there.
The’60s were a unique time in our history, as would-be sacrificial lambs rose up against the war-mongers. It was an interesting, exciting and frightening time. Unfortunately, the lessons of those times are largely lost on the younger generation. That’s largely because they weren’t lost on the people in power. The young generation of the ‘60s not only rebelled against an unjust war, but against the draft and the idea of being forced to fight and die in a war they considered unjust. The elimination of the draft and going to an all-volunteer armed forces stemmed much of the protest, allowing the people in power to go on their merry way. We’re fighting two wars at this moment, yet the fact that thousands of our young men are being killed or sustaining devastating physical and psychological damage is way down on the list of things in the public consciousness.
I don’t want to jump on the conspiracy bandwagon and postulate that the economic crisis was created to keep people’s minds off the bigger picture, the “Wag the Dog” theory. I think for the most part our leaders have been corrupted by the system, and are either incompetent or too busy feeding their greed to do what’s right for the masses, economically or otherwise.
The bottom line is that the 1% couldn’t care less about the other 99%, unless we get in their way. The result is that America as we’ve known it is swirling the drain, and unless things change radically, there are some very hard times ahead for every day Americans. Don’t worry about the 1% though, they’ll be fine.
Unfortunately, world peace is just the stuff of John Lennon songs. Violent conflict has always been a part of human nature. Reminders of Vietnam and our other recent wars walk among us. The treatment of our war vets, and their families while they’re off fighting, is often appalling. Perhaps those in a position to do more to help would rather sweep under the rug the evidence of the damage they’ve wrought. Maybe they just don’t care. But, if we as a people object loudly enough against those in power using the masses to further their agendas, perhaps the world would begin to swing toward Lennon’s ideals. Imagine that.