Anniversaries are supposed to be celebratory things, generally of weddings, when a couple starts a whole new life together. How odd that we use the same word, “anniversary,” to acknowledge — surely not celebrate? — the unwanted introduction of the Vietnam War into all of our lives.
I was two years old when Lyndon B. Johnson sanctioned the forcible sending of young men into a conflict that, according to my U.S. History teacher years later, “was never intended to be won.” I was 13 when the debacle officially ended.
Only it didn’t end, because those soldiers who came back returned to a life that their mothers never envisioned when their sons were born. How many of us have seen men with alcohol, drug, and lifestyle problems and said,
“Oh, yeah. He was in the Vietnam War. He’s never been the same since”?
Essays of Innocence
My high school English teacher was an upright, uptight woman with an impossible hair-do only achieved by a wig, but when you knew her two weeks, you were no longer frightened by exterior show. One afternoon, she strayed from discussing Shakespeare to remembering 13 years of teaching during the Vietnam War:
“Graduation is supposed to be an exciting time of anticipation,” she told us, “and for you it is.
“Not so long ago, I taught in a classroom where students — and not just the girls — put their heads down on their desks and wept. The boys in the class — who should have been thinking about prom, or bragging about all the things you boys brag about — were quiet, worried, still. Too many of them had their draft numbers pulled up, and they knew that immediately after graduation, they were being shipped out.
“Most of them figured they had little chance to return, and they were quite unfortunately right.
“I remember the essays that these boys wrote, in this same class.”
The Lucky Ones
The “lucky” ones returned — one of them was my husband’s brother, who 30 years later developed multiple myeloma, an especially virulent cancer attributed to the Agent Orange poison that was blanketed over the jungles of Vietnam. His “luck” ran out this year, and the aftermaths of the Vietnam War continue for his widow, his children, his grandchildren, his mother, his in-laws, his siblings, his friends.
“It’s different now,” we tell ourselves. “There is no draft.” But with mandatory registration for selective service still in force, and a series of wars — and rumors of wars — that have no real enemy and no intention of ever being won (how can you win against “terrorism”?), my English teacher’s scenario will be repeated anytime, in a future classroom. And with women now “cleared” to be fit for combat zones, the girls weeping at their desks won’t be crying for their boyfriends alone.
And already we say this:
“Oh, yeah. He was in the Kuwait/Iraqi/Afghanistan War. He’s never been the same since.”
War Is Life
“War has always been with us,” we sigh. And this is true, because war makes money, and people who crave money — and power — have always been with us as well. It is not the boys bragging about what boys brag about, and writing essays on Shakespeare’s sonnets, who start these things. But they are thrown into them.
When people question war, or the necessity of it, they are accused of being liberals who “don’t support our troops,” but as the sister-in-law who watched a good man — and his wife — fight, and fight, and fight a disease that their own government inflicted upon them in a war that was never intended to be won, I ask,
“Where are the generals, to hold the plastic pan, while this man throws up?”
War is not honorable, but we strive to make it so in order to justify the incredible loss of lives. And while in the past, during the Great War to End All Wars, say, (that was World War I, by the way), we established a definite bad guy, as years go by evidence mounts that certain people in financial and political positions played both sides for profit. And young men died.
Not the Original Intent
In the last days, when the Prince of Peace reigns, “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
“They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
“Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isaiah 2: 4)
Most people simply want to live their lives. It is telling that God’s vision for the future — when people will plow or prune — resembles our beginnings, in a garden, shows the intent our Creator had when He made the world.
But as long as manufacturing missiles produces greater profit than planting potatoes, we will never say good-bye to the legacy of the Vietnam War.
Happy Anniversary. Let the festivities begin.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. You know, even when we are Christians, we cannot escape the pain of living in this world, and while it’s true that Jesus is love, and we rest fully in that love, this doesn’t mean that we don’t speak out against things that are wrong.
We are on the side of eternal and ultimate goodness, and we walk in, and with, the Light of the World. The interesting thing about light in a dark room, however, is that it shines into the dark corners, and exposes the cockroaches that are scuttling about there.
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