Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Vietnam to Iraq: The guilt of not going

I must say, I’m a little envious. If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed. It must be exciting for you . . . in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You’re really making history, and thanks.”
-W. to some soldiers right around the the five year mark.

Yesterday sitting in traffic I saw a bumper sticker that said “send the Bush twins,” and I thought about the quote at the top of the page. It is worth revisiting W.’s comments. When I read them, I immediately thought of the “Guilt of not Going”, a theory I came up with a while back. The “Guilt of not Going” is about men who did not serve in the Vietnam War but supported the War in Afghanistan and the Invasion of Iraq. Obviously I do not mean the “whole boomer generation” but a good sized chunk.

Two years ago I talked with my cousin Jim, a Vietnam Veteran, who said many of his male friends have expressed regret for not serving in the Vietnam War; for not serving their country. He speculated that the “regret” was triggered by some yearning for an epic life that all boys dream about. War is intertwined in a man’s DNA. So many have gone to battle, we watch movies about it, read about it and grow up playing with toy guns and GI Joes.

We have over 4,000 American deaths, who knows how many Iraqi’s are dead and how many In the Valley of Elah situations have come and gone without a line in a newspaper. How many American soldiers have committed suicide? How many have run away? How many have killed their wives? How many have kept torture videos on their cell phones?

W.’s quote at the top of the page had two words that made me cringe; romantic and envious. What could possibly be “romantic” about running over a child with a truck? It’s peculiar he is “envious” of the troops, he had the chance to “serve” in Vietnam, he fled to Alabama and hid.

I want to know if there really is this undercurrent of guilt for not fighting in one’s youth that fuels this current blood lust. Is that a crackpot theory or is there something to it? Most men I have talked with in their 50’s didn’t want to go to Vietnam and are against the Occupation of Iraq. But some of those same men believe we went into Afghanistan and Iraq with good intentions.

I married the top W. quote with the “Guilt of not Going” theory together even if they don’t connect at first glance. Both the regret of boomer’s and W.’s detachment to the seriousness of war struck me. Even John McCain said “anyone who romanticizes war is a fool and a fraud”. I agree. I am struggling with how to make sense of this occupation and how it has been reluctantly supported by many Americans. There are mind boggling amounts of reason and speculation about “why we are there” and I don’t want to try and tackle them all one by one.

Picture (Reed Wacker): Sign was at the corner of MLK and E. Madison St.

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