(I post this on my blog every Memorial Day to remember my two friends who died in the Vietnam War. SW)
Today, I will again drink a glass of beer in memory of my two 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 their reasons for joining the military, maybe it was simply that the draft gave them no choice, but it really doesn’t matter now. What I do know is that their lives were cruelly 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 think differently 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, when necessary, make war.
Ricky and Cotter were near the bottom of the food chain of war making, nothing but cannon fodder. They were working class kids whose lives didn’t count for much in our government’s war plans. Neither was born with a silver spoon in their mouths, which is why they ended up with a gun in their hands so far away from their hometowns.
I will always wonder what kind of lives they would have lived 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 wonder if they would have had the internal resources and external support to come to terms with their war experience and live productive lives?
After all, they were not that much different than me, and I have no confidence that I could have. It was hard enough to grow up at that time without a tour of duty in Vietnam on my emotional resume. I wish, though, that they had that chance. I wish their lives hadn’t been senselessly erased doing things that no one should do. I wish they had the opportunity to live long and joyful lives.
I miss them. I celebrate them. They were “my buddies.” I wish they could join me for a beer today, although knowing them a single beer wouldn’t quite satisfy them. Or me.
I also hope that we could toast to the millions in our generation who opposed the war as well their comrades who also never made it back from Vietnam. Both deserve to be honored.
Finally, I like to think that the three of us could clink glasses to the people of Vietnam who suffered so much during and after the war, and are now rebuilding their country in conditions of peace. Maybe that would be too much to expect. Unfortunately, I will never know. They will join me only in memory this afternoon, as I wash down a glass of beer.