At one time almost everyone I knew, young or old, was antiwar. It was over 30 years ago, no, hell, it was over 45 years ago, and everyone I knew was antiwar. All my friends, their parents, and even some of their grandparents. We stopped the war. That’s right, the people of the United States stopped the Vietnam War that had been going on for 10 years. Politicians could see that most of the people who voted for them wanted that war stopped and so they put the pressure on and it was ended.
Today it seems as though most people don’t even realize we are at war and have been for decades. Today, politicians don’t see or hear any sort of antiwar movement. About eight years ago there was an antiwar rally at the Florida State Capital, and I went. I bet there were not 500 people there and few college students, even though we were right next to the FSU and Florida A&M campuses. The sad part was that most of the people there were my age. Young people going to college don’t care about our wars. There is no military draft, and they know all the poor people in this country will join up to fight just to get a job. Did you ever think that maybe that is the reason we have such a large population of poor people in the richest country on earth? Maybe it is just so we have people signing up to go fight the wars we start to keep our economy going. Just so that the rich can get richer.
I can’t really say I was antiwar when I came home from Vietnam. I think I was numb. I didn’t want to think about that war or follow it on the news or even admit that I had been there. Of course my short hair either told people I was in the military or had just gotten out, or maybe I was in law enforcement.
It took a while for me to get my head on straight. I went to a vo-tech school to become an electrician, but I wasn’t ready for a classroom setting. I couldn’t concentrate on the classes, and I couldn’t relate to all the other students who were younger than me, and who all seemed to be happy and were having a good time while I was trying my best to just not go crazy. Not going crazy took up most of my time, and all I was reading or hearing about in the news and on television shows was about crazy Vietnam Vets doing this or doing that—things that “normal” people would never do. Yes, when you come home from a war zone you really are not normal anymore. That applies not just to Vietnam vets, but also to vets coming home today.
I didn’t want to shoot anyone or rob a bank or go out and get drunk or high. I just wanted to be like I was before I went into the Marines, but that wasn’t happening.
I ended up going to Arizona State University and got a job in Veterans Outreach. I was paid a little bit to go to bars and try and talk veterans into going to college and use their GI Bill. I also would go to Indian reservations to do the same. That job taught me there were a whole lot of crazy vets out in society. At one reservation the Tribal Office told me to walk out to a bridge where a lot of vets hung out. I did. There was a bridge, but it only went over a dry wash and about 40 vets were out there hanging around smoking dope or drinking or doing both. They had a fire going and were cooking food and playing with a Frisbee and a couple were playing catch with a baseball and mitts. Some were from the Vietnam war, some from Korea, and some from WWII. I gave them my pitch, and they laughed and one said, “We can sit out here and get high every day and have a good time or we can go to your college and study hoping we will learn enough to get a job, right?” To which I said, “Yeah, or maybe you could learn how to paint or weld or carve wood or play a musical instrument”. That got a few of them interested and a couple did start taking some classes. I felt good about that.
Sometime in the early 1970s, President Richard Nixon was coming to Phoenix and our government, in its wisdom, rounded up several Vietnam Veterans and put them in a motel where they had to stay until Nixon left town. Crazy Vietnam vet or not crazy Vietnam vet, but just vets. The feds figured it was better to be safe than sorry. Of course picking you up and holding you out of the public eye to protect a President doesn’t do much for the veterans who are trying to convince themselves they really are not all that crazy.
It was sometime at Arizona State that I decided I was antiwar. No, it wasn’t the antiwar movement with all the longhair hippie-looking students who had not a clue about what war was that got me there, but rather talking to other vets and seeing that so many of them were in the same place I was and how the things I did and saw in Vietnam were some of the same things other veterans did and saw. Horrible things, evil things, bad things that I had been telling myself were things that only happened to me. It didn’t matter that I was talking about just Vietnam, Korean and WWII veterans could relate to what I said, and I could relate to what happened to them. Pretty much, war is war, no matter where you fought it.
Now, not all veterans are antiwar. If you make a career out of the military you are likely to end up pro-military, and you probably have to just to keep your sanity. Yes, I can think of some good things we did in Vietnam. Heck, we built an orphanage while I was there, but when you think about it, most of those kids were orphans because we were there. We set up medical clinics and gave people jobs, but when you think about that, pimps and whores were a huge sector of the job market we created along with those who sold drugs to the American troops.
Think about being a five year old when the Americans troops first came to Vietnam and being 15 when they left, and then a few more years of war while the North and South finished that war up. A dozen years in a war zone I bet will give you a life time of PTSD. I don’t know what the population of Vietnam was back then, but I do know we killed over a million civilians and hundreds of thousands of North Vietnam’s troops. There for sure is no count on the number of land mines we left, and who knows how many unexploded bombs there are still in the ground over there. Oh, and who can forget the chemicals we used over there. It has been estimated that over 74 million liters of tactical herbicides were used in Vietnam during 1961–1971, of which agent orange made up almost 60% (43 million liters).
So, I finished college and started a family, and throughout all those years since then I have stayed antiwar. I have written over a thousand columns against war, and some have been published in Europe and even Russia. I have written for many antiwar web pages, have given talks at high schools, did a several year stint as a VFW Commander and as an American Legion Commander doing my best to help veterans.
For me, being antiwar war is a lifetime commitment. It seems though that there are fewer and fewer Americans who even have a strong opinion about our wars pro or con. If you look at the lists of our troops who get killed in our wars today, you will see many, maybe most are in their late 20s, early 30s or even 40s, and for some reason I don’t understand. It doesn’t seem so bad that a professional soldier, sailor, air man or Marine is killed rather that an 18 year old kid that went to high school with your son or daughter. I’m pretty sure that getting rid of the draft did a lot to cut down on those Americans who protest our wars.
We now have a professional armed force made up of many career troops, and so it isn’t that 18 year old being killed, it is that father or mother who has several children back here in the States who was just trying to stick around long enough to get that 20 year retirement and live the good life of a military pension and working that second job that would give them a good income with almost no formal education.
In President Obama’s last year in office, the United States dropped 26,171 bombs in seven countries. This estimate is undoubtedly low, considering reliable data is only available for airstrikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, and a single “strike,” according to the Pentagon’s definition, can involve multiple bombs or munitions. In 2016, the United States dropped 3,027 more bombs—and in one more country, Libya—than in 2015.
There is no doubt about it, the United States is at war and has been for almost most, if not all of the last 75 years, but Washington is getting better and better at not only justifying war, but keeping it off the front pages of our newspapers and off the nightly news. The American people are no longer even told the number of our troops who get wounded, and we have not been told those numbers since 2012. They have to tell us the number killed as the media can count up the coffins returning, and the funerals are still reported in our local papers. In 2011, the last year we got the total number of wounded, it was 4,825, not counting Afghanistan as they kept those numbers secret. That year 566 were killed, again excluding Afghanistan
Of course those numbers don’t include those who suffered Traumatic Brain injuries from buried bombs that destroyed the vehicle they were in or the troops suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress, or those who blew out their back carrying over 80 or more pounds of equipment day in and day out. War takes its toll, and all you have to do is spend a day at any VA Hospital volunteering to learn how big of a toll it takes.
And heck, all I have been writing about is the American side of our wars. We have no idea of the real numbers of people we kill and maim and displace in our wars, but there is no doubt it is in the millions.
Yes, I am still an antiwar Vietnam veteran, and when I think about it, it probably is the death and injuries, and destruction we bring to the world that makes me keep hating war. Our troops have a choice. Like I said, there is no longer a draft, and we do pay our troops better than ever before. If you can last 20 years you get 50% of your pay for life. There are not many jobs you can retire from at 38 years old.
So I’ll keep writing columns against war or explaining what happens in war. I’ll keep writing my elected officials, but I don’t even know if they read them, but I hope at least some staff member has to. And I will keep talking to young people and hope I can convince some of them to try something other than the military to explore life.
Maybe something will happen and more Americans will realize the fact that we, the United States are and have been The Merchants of Death to the world for generations. For sure the rest of the world knows it.
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