War’s Sacrifices: Has U.S. Forgotten?

That was the title of an article by Greg Jaffe Washington Post.  March 6, 2011

He was writing about a Lt. General John Kelly who had given a speech, sometimes angry, about “The military sacrifices and its troops’ growing sense of isolation from society.”

A local women calls soldiers murderers.   She insults men in the press often.  She thinks women are better than men by far.  She sees men as devils and in her Goddess worship group they “bitch” about how the patriarchy didn’t value women and how male Gods were superior to women and how men acted superior to women.  Men can worship the Goddess but they can’t in the company of women in her group.  We become what we hate, even if what we hate really never existed. She doesn’t seem to understand that both sexes have decided to send American boys to our wars so neither sex is absolved or praised depending on how history ultimately sees the war.  Women are the largest voting block, they have had the vote for almost 100 years, so why are some women still blaming men for the decisions of our government and then blaming the boys we send to war?

John Kelly, Jaffe tells us, had one request before he gave that speech “Please don’t mention my son,” he asked the Marine Corp officer introducing him.  His son had died in Afghanistan four days earlier.  One of 5,500, almost all young men who have died. He spoke of the anger some combat veterans feel  towards the wars opponents and later the General made it clear that he was not speaking of dissent, but of indifference.

I get a flood of emotions thinking of the sacrifices expected of young men and the sacrifices men make in work, or war, to provide for and protect their families.  Male sacrifices in American culture are ignored.  As millions of men go to work or war every day; to provide for and protect their families, they are rarely noticed or praised. But when the few men who for reasons of mental health, or stress, or untreated child abuse, or perhaps some are just evil, “go off” and harm others then we read about them for days after and hear about testosterone poisoning.

Some call our soldiers murderers and blame the Y chromosome or male acculturation for why we have war.  We have war because humans and animals are territorial and some are warlike.  In the real world sometimes we started a war and sometimes they did but at all times if our boys don’t kill theirs then our boys die.  We haven’t figured out how to stop others from attacking us but offering flowers just doesn’t work when enemies want your land.  And who can blame boys when rich politicians and their supporters and wealthy CEO’s who see war as a way to profit sell us a lie and our boys die.

The general discussed how the war  “[T]akes their innocence, their  limbs, and sometimes their lives.”

One of the most brutal comments I had ever read about the disdain and callousness towards male suffering was by a woman commenting on how some men – our enemies or the enemies of our enemies –  had been left in either a metal railroad car or a huge truck.  I don’t remember which. I believe it was a train.  No windows. They were intentionally left in the desert.  It was over a hundred degrees outside but it became hotter inside that thick metal container like an oven, and they were locked in.  These men were uneducated, poor, from a culture that we believe, from a narrow point of view, doesn’t respect women.

The woman heard about these men suffocating [screaming for fresh cool air, stampeding on the bodies of the dying to pull them away from a crack to get oxygen, brains boiling, chewing off fingertips and sucking on the sweat and blood to get a few drops of moisture.  Screaming, hallucinating, seeing that they were going to die this way and never seeing their loved ones again.  Dying horrible deaths and leaving survivors who would always remember how their family members had suffered and died.] she felt joy, satisfaction, because in their culture they treated women as second class citizens. She said that they had it coming.  As amazing as that hatred is, I was more amazed that a newspaper even repeated what she had said.

I would have had her give that speech to the mothers, sisters, wives, daughters of these men to see if that’s how those women saw those men.  We grow up in a culture that is blind to other cultures and blind to much that is in our own.  Those mothers would have wanted to put her in that same hot railroad car.  Some would have wanted to hear her screams.  And some would excuse such ignorance and let her out to live.

In basic training, starting July of 1966, I watched the boys I was with.  We got haircuts, O.D. green clothing.  Boots.  We started to look the same.  We were trained the same.  We were treated the same.  In some ways we learned to hide our differences and act the same.  We were being taught that we were not individuals.  We were becoming parts of a machine. When the key is turned on, the switch thrown, we were supposed to let our training take over and hope that our fear of having our legs blown off would not keep them from taking us into the face of battle.

My twin sister was not there.  She was not drafted. She had the vagina pass to freedom. I was not old enough to vote for that war at age 20 when voting age was 21. I had no choice.  It’s called “involuntary servitude” and we are supposed to be protected from that.  Well, some of us are. The men and women of America , just like other countries, send boys, for a reason.  Boys too young to vote.  Young boys are still maturing and many don’t have a strong sense of self, or and understanding of world events. We become cannon fodder for political machines that want us as their killing machines.

Some women, too many of them, blame the victims.

We are individuals.  We are sons and brothers and lovers and husbands with separate thoughts and feelings.  We should matter. When I read two of the paragraphs by Jafffe about General Kelly and his son I thought of my son, age 25,  and my step-son age 27 and my nephew age 25.   Jaffe wrote:  “As a general, Kelly had spoken with scores of grieving parents.  He had written hundreds of condolence letters.  In them, he tried to explain why the loss of a beloved child was meaningful, noble and worth the family’s pain.”

“I guess over time I had convinced myself that I could imagine what it would be like to lose a son or daughter. You try to imagine it so that you can write the right kind of letters or form the right words to try to comfort.  But you can’t even come close. It is unimaginable.”

I have not been to the Viet Nam memorial. I have watched more than one program about the artist Maya Lin’s simple design and the overwhelming emotions of the men and women who see that wall with tens of thousands of names on it.  I will spend a day someday going over all the names.  I will see names of boys I knew, killed in Viet Nam.

In basic training every morning during roll call you hear the names.  Today, getting closer to 50 years later I have forgotten some but I would recognize them if I heard them.  There were a few mean boys, angry boys, but most were good boys, funny boys, silly boys.  I thought we were men then, age 20, but we had a long way to go still.  I think of the genius who knew the odds on Poker hands but lost anyway because he just had bad luck.  War’s that way.  A guys head gets blown off next to you and you think it’s luck.  You carry lucky charms.  That’s what soldiers remember sometimes. How their lucky charm worked but their best friends didn’t.  I think of the kid with the accent who made up stupid poems standing in the rain, bone cold, muddy, carrying rifles.  All of us just wanting to rest, sleep, just let us lay on the cold wet ground, we were that tired.

He would smile at us and say stupid things like:  “The rain is running down my back, soaking food and my pack, but I don’t care, I like it there.”  And I wonder if the idiot that failed a physical training test with a few others so we switched name tags  and  I took his retest for him ended up in Viet Nam.  I scored in the top 3 % on my own test but I didn’t do well tossing the hand grenades and that wasn’t my fastest mile either.  Our Drill Instructor figured if you could shoot, you didn’t need to be a fast runner or good at push-ups and pull-ups so he cheated and got those wimps through.  I ran the mile faster than I had guessed I could in combat boots and I had a very lucky day tossing hand grenades.  I had beaten my own test score.  This dork now had a better score than I did.  So what did he do?  He tried to get into airborne with those higher scores.  Funny guys, silly guys and some stupid guys but you didn’t want to see them, or even the mean guys, get killed in Viet Nam . Someday I will check all the names on the wall. Not now, not yet.

My disability came from police and prison work. But because of that disability I ended up getting to know many disabled veterans from more than one war.  Most ended up as really nice older men.  Most had been really nice boys. Most had lived with scars and wounds visible and not visible and most had suffered long after the war. I am glad that my son, step-son, and nephew are not in the war because I don’t want them to have those men’s lives or my life either, although I am doing well today despite a few issues.  I do know that if we were under attack they would fight to protect all of us, men, women and children. My daughter would fight too. But the bottom line for me is let someone else’s son die. That’s the reality of it.  But show honor, respect, take care of them, because they are in the war and you are not and we sent them.  I would rather go to war than send my kids.

Most men would feel the same.

Few of us give a damn about those young men in our wars today.  More seem worried about how much it costs in dollars and what programs they must give up for, well, mostly for women.  Welfare, WIC, taxes for colleges that mostly women attend, national health programs for women, none for men, funding for violence against women. None for men.

Although I was not in war I sometimes think I have an idea of what it would be like for a parent to lose a son and yet it’s not true. I can’t even think that one through.  I know people who lost sons long ago and they are not over it.  One night in Korea we were racing our police jeeps late at night.  We got a call about a fight by the airstrip.  It was dark and the fastest driver in our company jumped in my jeep and then complained about what a slow driver I was on the way to this police call as I was speeding along. I was the second fastest and I always suggested that his jeep was just faster but he was more willing to risk his life than I.

We got to the airstrip, very dark, a jeep was upside down.  A man was screaming in pain.  Another was unconscious on the ground but it was too dark to see him. We brought another jeep around with his lights and our flashlights. We saw blood coming out of his eyes, ears and mouth.  We didn’t bother with CPR.  The dead guys friend, a few feet away, was screaming “tell me he is O.K. tell me he isn’t dead” and my friend said “Ya he’s dead you stupid fuck, what were you guys doing here?”  Truth is, they were screwing off just like we had been moments ago.

We had been around enough and could put the clues together although an official report would come days later.  Skid marks, roll over, booze, the passenger had evidently panicked and pulled the emergency brake at high speed” We drove back to our barracks slowly.  I asked “Am I driving fast enough Sergeant?”

“Yeah, fast enough, slower is fine.”

The dead boy was having his last night before going home party that night.  At that age, 21, I felt sad for the mother.  I was taught that mothers feel more deeply for their children. I don’t believe that is true today.  I have seen too many grieving couples where the wife, not the husband, is able to speak about the “accident” or “shooting.”

There is a limit to the pain a person can feel and for sure that mother and father of that boy, who had a room ready for him to visit in 48 hours or so, would both find that limit.  I don’t believe most parents ever get over that loss. They learn to live with it, and sometimes they don’t.

After reading that news article I went to the post office in Mendocino to see if a package from my brother Rick was there.  It was not.  He is not reliable.  The army might have done him some good.  Or, he might have died there. Or, he might have ended up with a 100% disability like me. On the glass door was taped a photo of a goofy looking young man, my son’s age, a Private First Class posted there.  Dead.   Cute and funny looking.  Likely just a bad photo.  Likely the best one they had. And, likely I will read about him in our weekly small town newspaper.  Most people reading it won’t care. I am guessing it was an IED.  Maybe it was a jeep wreck, speeding. Maybe it was an accident or a sniper. Luck always plays a part in life.

When I got home I read the paper over coffee just like many others did.  I read about two brothers who were racing their cars in a town near.  A car rolled, a brother died, he and his parents will feel that pain. The police and medics and coroner will live with that too.  Friends and family will suffer.  The brother will always blame himself, even after therapy where he will be told that his brother made that choice.  Those closest to that young man will, over the years, read about families losing a son in war, or by accidents, or at their own hand.  They will be closer to understanding the pain of the survivors than others.    Boys can be reckless.  Some will blame the boys  for speeding so too bad that they died, they might have hurt someone else.  Or, too bad that they died, the war is stupid so the boys must be stupid too.  Some who have experienced the loss of a daughter or son will feel compassion.  They will remember their losses. They will suffer with them.

It’s too bad that humans have to often learn the hard way.

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