War Then and Now

War. War in the streets. Civil War! cries the headline. War.

One of my students casually mentioned to me recently that lots of his friends think we need a war here, you know, just to kinda straighten things out. Clear the air. Establish that white people who speak English poorly but as their first language are still boss, I guess. They are Trump supporters. He’s an 18 year old high school graduate, much of whose education was based on “Christian curriculum” before he became my student. He is a technically literate male. I don’t know his friends, but I think he met at least some of them in auto tech school. They are, I believe, regular rural Missouri kids living an hour away from Kansas City. They casually believe that a war here would be a good thing.

I fought in a war. Where I was we fought mostly in the woods, in dense ancient forests on worn ancient mountains. Periodically, usually in the small hours of the morning in the dark of the moon, a few thousand of them would run up onto a few hundred of us and kill as many of us as they could, while we killed as many of them as we could. These are literal numbers.  War is not a video game.  I’m talking about killing total strangers who are close enough that you can see the expressions on their faces while they die. I’m talking about finding out after that several of your friends died and will remain dead forever, but you were too busy to notice it at the time. I’m talking about spending days and days in the jungle sun surrounded by dead people who are getting smellier and smellier, their bodies reeking inflating balloons, black rotten blood bubbling out of the bullet holes you shot into them, while you wait for the shooting to stop long enough to bury them. I’m talking about sleeping in the mud in a tent you built this afternoon and will take down tomorrow morning for tomorrow after tomorrow… I’m talking about digging a hole and squatting over it to shit. Every time you have to shit. For months. Don’t even think “thank you for your service.” Please. I hate that phrase. I’m trying to pierce the jingoistic fog and express how horribly ugly war is. All war. Without exception.  Movies don’t tell you. TV doesn’t tell you. Video games don’t tell you. The only way to find out just how horrible war is is by simultaneously finding out you are in the stupidest predicament of your life. THESE IDIOTS THINK A WAR WOULD BE COOL! bundywar2 They saw it on TV, they played it on their computers. Under a layer of sanctimonious bullshit, a whole lot of American grownups appear to agree. The entire Cliven Bundy family does.  I’ll bet Ted Cruz does. Probably Donald Trump does too, although when he had the opportunity to find out how cool war is up close and personal back in ’66 through ’74 he turned it down. He “can’t remember” what his disabling condition was, he says, and I’ve seen conflicting reports, but he can golf OK at 70.

For myself, and for most others I know who were seriously wounded, wounding was not as terrible to experience or as horrible to recall as firefights. The onset, ambush, gunfire, rockets, explosions… lights, sights, sounds, smells, fears, the need to act… the aftermath, the dead on both sides all around you, survivors picking up the pieces… people who were only wounded a little now wandering over to the medics, who are all basket cases but still helping, for some disinfectant and a bandaid… dustoff birds in & out with your friends who might or might not survive… resupply birds in & out, like as not also carrying the wounded out on the return trip…. you shoot up a lot of ammo in a firefight… everybody kind of dazed… the fucking colonels flying in wearing clean pressed jungle fatigues, polished jungle boots, to strut around… colonels sleep in dry safe beds and wear clean clothes… None of us grunts have had a bath or a change of clothes in thirty-some days… there are quite literally no words. Roll another one.

Today’s wars aren’t quite like that on the surface.  Nowadays wars are mostly fought in cities, by invisible enemies with bombs, us bombing from the skies, them hand-delivering bombs under their shirts. The cities are indescribable scenes of horror, piles of rubble, rats ascendant… people starving and dying of thirst… Dead civilians outnumber dead soldiers by some ridiculous factor. Prime time TV in America ought to be live footage from Homs in Syria, homs-1from Sana’a in Yemen, interspersed with live footage from Somalia and the Gaza Strip. Americans need to take a close look at the unremitting grimness and misery of war. Yes, friends, American cities can look Just Like That.

As I write this we have, although not large scale combat, serious conflict on our streets, intense, angry, deadly conflict. Two black men have been murdered by police, in two different cities half a continent apart. Five cops have been murdered and another seven put in the hospital by one efficient sniper holding a monument to our sacred Second Amendment, an AR15, in his hands.

When we fought the NVA they used AK-47’s. That was a fearsome weapon in the sort of close quarters combat we did, and we respected it mightily. In early versions the AR15, or M-16 as we knew it, was an unreliable piece of shit that couldn’t be trusted in a firefight, so we were envious of the NVA and their indestructible AK-47’s. After investing a few thousand of our lives in their research project, Colt Inc. did some redesign work and was able to ship us new M-16’s that were as reliable as any AK-47. We used the improved version for the last 5 months of my part of the war, and it was a devastating man-killer. That’s the gun that America’s murderers choose today. The AK-47, although deadly at close quarters, isn’t a good long range rifle. American murderers prefer the AR15 because they can hide in a parking garage, or in the trunk of a parked sedan, and murder people from way far off and not have to face that death with their own eyes.

bundywarThe most recent previous mini-war was not in our streets, but on our Federally owned lands. One family has taken up arms against the United States of America not once but twice. Just like (and possibly including) my student and his poorly informed friends, many people think these pisspot revolutions were Great Things.

Of course, in the Bundy family’s second go-round one of their compatriots managed to get himself killed. There was (and I suppose still is) Much Outrage. He was Martyred! No, he wasn’t martyred. He chose to go to war. It was a tiny war, but it was a war. That is what it means to take up arms against a government. We call that “war.” So, in war, people get killed. It’s part of the deal. The good guys don’t all live, no matter who you might think the good guys are. And that, friends, is why it is a Very Bad Idea to bring war to the United States.

Many combat vets are permanently damaged by what they have seen and done. I am one of them. One of the ways this damage shows itself it in nightmares. My nightmares have been two: in one of them I have been drafted again and am back in the jungle in combat against a uniformed army made up of small Asian people.  I understand it to be the NVA although in world time there is no longer an N before the V… well, anyway, I’ve been drafted again and I’m fighting young, healthy, committed Asian soldiers. And the catch is, I am whatever age in the dream that I am in real life. So the next time I have that dream I’ll be 69, permanently addicted to synthetic thyroid hormone, and have fake knees. I will also be seriously annoyed that the damn government has drafted me again, and upset because they can’t find the records of when I served before, and meantime I’m getting into the same old firefights, but they’re harder because my knees hurt even worse than they did then, and I’m trying to help the child soldiers around me to not get killed… well, you get the picture. People and dogs who love me wake me out of the dreams and comfort me.

The other one is similar, but worse by orders of magnitude. Back in combat, check. Same age as in real life, check. Only in this dream the war is here. Here. Missouri. America. The United States. And… it’s real combat. Americans against Americans.  Not small Asians, but large, well fed, well armed Americans, at least at the start.  They don’t stay well fed – our food, water, and electricity delivery systems will collapse quickly and abruptly if serious war starts here.

People, I don’t know how to express this to you: we do not want to do this. Bringing war to the United States again will be a much worse idea than it was in 1861. There are more people. We are less able to feed ourselves. Most of us don’t even have direct access to water. We don’t want to do this. We really, really don’t want to do this. There are absolutely no words for how horrible war is.


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