Waking to an Old, Ugly War

I did not wake up thinking I wanted to write about the horrors of war, nor about how much I abhor the concept of officially-endorsed killing. I did not get out of bed with the intent of thinking about the monstrosities of inflicting murder and mayhem on innocent civilians or professional soldiers. But sometimes circumstances simply spiral out of control. Like regional conflicts blossoming into global havoc and pandemonium. Disagreements mushrooming into all-out war.

The sequence of events that caused me to subscribe, online, to the Boston Globe fades into memory now, less than a year after my deeply discounted subscription began. I recall, though, that my interest began well before I subscribed to a free Boston Globe email column, entitled Fast Forward, written by Teresa Hanafin. Hanafin’s writing style got me hooked. My interest in her selection of news topics almost always surprised me; her writing made even pieces about Boston sports teams intriguing to me. At any rate, I’ve found that I like the newspaper quite a lot, even though I do not read it every day, nor do I read it in depth. Some days, though, the articles grab me by the collar and refuse to let me loose until I’ve finished reading them. This morning, for example.

An article attributed to Mike Ives, New York Times, caught me by surprise. The piece recounted the recovery, last year, of the remains of Major Paul A. Avolese, a navigator on one of two B-52s that collided over the South China Sea in July 1967 as they approached a target in what was then South Vietnam.  Six members of the crew of the two planes survived; six were lost and not recovered. Avolese was declared dead days later. The U.S. military later classified the remains of the six missing members of the crew as dead and “non-recoverable.”

Avolese’s remains were discovered and were retrieved last year, thanks to the use of sophisticated undersea robots. The article described the process of searching an eight square mile area of sea floor and getting permission from the U.S. and Vietnamese governments, by satellite phone, to recover the remains discovered through imaging. That information, alone, was intriguing enough to warrant reading the article. But I also learned from reading it that 1,584 U.S. service personnel were still listed as missing, as of late July, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). That figure struck me: 1,584 people lost during the war and their remains still have not been found and/or recovered. Learning that figure prompted me to explore further the extent of the carnage of that war.

We left so many dead (58,220, according to Defense Casualty Analysis System (DCAS) Extract Files) and so many still missing.  An article in Britannica online reports that, in 1995, “Vietnam released its official estimate of the number of people killed during the Vietnam War: as many as 2,000,000 civilians on both sides and some 1,100,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters. The U.S. military has estimated that between 200,000 and 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers died.

We sent so many men and women to fight a war that, in my view, was never justified. And so many more went off to war as they were commanded to do by their governments. They were told they were sent to fight a “just” war. But, then, in my opinion no war is ever truly justified. During my online explorations this morning, I uncovered so many facts we seem regularly to forget. Of course, I am one of thousands or millions who recognize the absurdity of war. I came across an article from October 2016 from the Tehran Times that addressed the hypocrisy of our own statements about war, in referencing the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan:

Interestingly, U.S. President Barack Obama, despite being awarded 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, would defend this war of atrocities, in a clear contrast to his prize. He said: “This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity…So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”

I hold Obama in high regard. But I hold in contempt the viewpoint that war is justified. But no matter how absurd war is, individual soldiers have little choice but to do as they are told. Their options are limited: go to war or go to prison; in either case, death is a very real potential outcome. And because our culture (and many others) worships “warriors,” we treat war as though it were a holy cause, not a massive and catastrophic failure of humanity. I will say that self-defense is legitimate, but war is not. One does not necessarily lead to the other. I could defend my statement, but I don’t bother here. I would be tied to my computer for days, maybe even weeks.

The fact that I quoted the Tehran Times could no doubt be used to classify me as a traitor or a socialist or a communist or God knows what other demonic beastly label might be used to excoriate me. Those same labelers will claim I do not support American soldiers because I do not appreciate their sacrifices. It is precisely because I appreciate their sacrifices—but hate that they are asked to make them in support of corrupt policies and philosophies—that I loathe war. I loathe carpet bombing civilian targets, whether in Vietnam or Afghanistan or New York. I hate brain-washing American Air Force officers or Marines or Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards into believing the populations of entire countries are enemies.

It’s too easy to blame soldiers for the atrocities of their political leaders. Soldiers are effectively war-slaves because they have no reasonable choices. But the lyrics of a song by Buffy Sainte-Marie keep coming back to me as I think of what it would take to put an end to politically-motivated warmongering. It would require every soldier in every country to simply refuse to do the murderous bidding of their commanders who, in turn, would have to refuse to to the bidding of their political masters. It will never happen. But would that it did. Here are Sainte-Marie’s lyrics:

Universal Solider

He is five feet two, and he’s six feet four
He fights with missiles and with spears
He is all of thirty-one, and he’s only seventeen
He’s been a soldier for a thousand years
He’s a Catholic, a Hindu, an atheist, a Jain
A Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew
And he knows, he shouldn’t kill
And he knows he always will
Killing you for me my friend, and me for you
And he’s fighting for Canada, he’s fighting for France
He’s fighting for the U.S.A.
And he’s fighting for the Russians
And he’s fighting for Japan
And he thinks we put an end to war this way
And he’s fighting for democracy
He’s fighting for the Reds
He says it’s for the peace of all
He’s the one who must decide
Who’s to live and who’s to die
And he never sees the writing on the wall.
But without him, how would Hilter have condemned them at La Val?
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He’s the one who gives his body as a weapon of the war
And without him all this killing can’t go on
He’s the universal soldier and he really is to blame
His orders come from far away, no more
They come from here and there, and you and me
And brothers, can’t you see?
This is not the way we put the end to war

What a sad, sad topic as the new week begins. It’s either that or COVID or the misery of tearing the U.S. apart politically.

I woke just before 3:30 a.m. It’s now about 5:45 a.m. This day may have started out on the wrong foot. Perhaps more coffee and a decent breakfast will help.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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