I post this every Memorial Day to recall my friends whose lives were cut short in the Vietnam War. This year though it registers with me in different way in that a president sits in the White House who, without so much as a pause or second thought, threatens its adversaries with nuclear war and military annihilation.
Today, I will again lift a pint of ale in memory of my three friends and their comrades who died in Vietnam.
I honor them without honoring the aggressive and unjust war in which they fought.
I don’t know what their motivations were to join the military, maybe it was simply that the draft gave them no choice, but it really doesn’t matter. What I do know for sure is that their lives were unnecessarily cut short.
As a young peace activist in the late 60s, I probably didn’t always make a distinction between the soldiers fighting the war and the war itself. The soldier and the general were equally responsible as I saw it.
But I don’t make that mistake now. I place the main responsibility for war on its architects in high places and a social system – capitalism – whose logic is to expand, dominate, and make war.
Ricky, Tuna and Cotter were at the bottom of this hierarchy of war making, nothing but cannon fodder, working class kids whose lives didn’t count for much in our government’s war plans. None of them were born with a silver spoon in their mouths, which is why in no small measure they ended up with a gun in their hand far away from their homes.
I will always wonder what kind of lives they would have lead had they safely returned. With no hero’s welcome, no counseling waiting for them, no easy slide into a well paying job, I can’t help but think — would they have had the internal resources and support to come to terms with their war experience and live productive lives?
I easily (perhaps unfairly) doubt it, because each of them was not that different from me, and I have no confidence at all that I could have made that transition. It was hard enough to grow up in the 1960s without the ghastly bloodletting in Vietnam on my emotional resume.
I wish, though, that they had a chance. I wish that their lives hadn’t been wasted doing things that no one should be forced to do. I wish that they had the opportunity to live long and happily.
I miss them. I celebrate them. They were “my buddies.” I wish they could join me at the Bronx Ale House today for a pint in their honor, although knowing them, I suspect, a single pint wouldn’t quite satisfy them, or me for that matter.
I also wish that we would toast to the millions in our generation who opposed the war. Some of them lost their lives, some of them went to jail, and some of them were scarred by the experience. They, too, deserve to be honored. In choosing to oppose the war, it was our generation’s “finest hour.”
Finally, I like to think that the four of us would clink glasses to the people of Vietnam who suffered so much during and after the war, and who are now rebuilding their country in conditions of peace.
Maybe that would be too much to expect from them. Unfortunately, I will never know.