No excuses


Dear Son

††††††††††† I am deeply sorry that you think of me as a coward.

††††††††††† My life has many things in it over which I am ashamed. But avoiding the Vietnam War was not one of them.

††††††††††† You and your-TV brainwashed generation had grown dull witted with Chuck Norris and Dirty Harry movies, so that shooting everyone and sorting out the dead later seems proper to you.

††††††††††† Many today believe we should have bombed North Vietnam back into the stone age the way we tried to do in the first Persian Gulf War.

††††††††††† I think we tried.

††††††††††† But it is beyond me to argue a policy over which neither you nor I have a say.

††††††††††† I just want to tell you that war is more than just the manipulation of a joy stick to a video game.

††††††††††† I admit, even I didnít know a lot about what was happening to our nation until after I graduated high school and became vulnerable to the draft.

††††††††††† News reached me about the death of a senior classmate.

††††††††††† He was the captain of the football team, who couldnít get the taste of cheering out of his head, and thought war would bring him the same admiration scoring the winning touch down did at the Thanksgiving Day game.

††††††††††† Although a few years older than I was, we all knew his name, and felt shocked at his dying.

††††††††††† Going to his funeral was as much an obligation as attending the Memorial Day parade.

††††††††††† Many of the same people attended: aging veterans from previous wars who talked on and on about what a hero he had been.

††††††††††† Everybody forgot just how reckless he was on and off the field, full of some obsession to succeed that had nothing to do with war.

††††††††††† I remember him once telling me of his dream of going to California to do something else that had nothing to do with sports or cheering crowds. He never said exactly what.

††††††††††† Standing there, listening to the speeches, I couldnít help but think that the dead boy was only an excuse for others to cheer on the war, using his death to show how right we were in being there.

††††††††††† In some ways, those faces of men who had survived war seemed full of celebration of death, seeing this boy not as a person, but as a symbol for their own† cause.

††††††††††† I wanted to grab each man by the collar and shake them out of their killing talk. For years later, I regretted not speaking out right then and there. For if I had, I might have saved a few more lives.

††††††††††† I made up my mind from then I wasnít going to Vietnam drafted or not

††††††††††† My father hated me for it and the screaming matches drove my mother mad and me from the house.

††††††††††† I made plans with my best friend, Billy, to sneak over the border into Canada, even though it made me feel like a refugee. Better a lost soul, I thought, then coming home in a box where a pack of patriots could praise me for how brave I was for killing other peopleís kids.

††††††††††† My father, your grandfather, found out, and turned us in.

††††††††††† The court gave us a choice: go into service or go to jail.

††††††††††† Billy bit the bullet and went to Vietnam. I heard about his death while still serving my sentence.

But then, the draft ended, and a short time later, so did the war. President Jimmy Carter pardoned the draft resisters, I got on with my life.

††††††††††† Despite electing Ronald Reagan as president, America seemed to get on the right track Ė despite a few small idiotic military engagements.

††††††††††† Then, we started with Iraq.

††††††††††† Out came the war mongers again, older, but no wiser, handing out flags to unsuspecting fools who either knew nothing of war or were too dim to remember what it felt like to lose loved ones.

††††††††††† I didnít expect anybody to feel sorry for those we dropped bombs on.

††††††††††† I thought of you, and was secretly glad the war was over as quickly as it was, with so few lives on our side lost.

††††††††††† I thought, maybe the old patriots were right. Maybe we should have bombed them into the stone age back then. Maybe a lot of people like the football captain and Billy would still be alive again.

††††††††††† But now weíre back there, and† -- you being a throwback to your grandfather and his patriotic ideals Ė volunteered.

††††††††††† Iím scare for you, son. I donít want you to end up like that football star.

††††††††††† I donít want to attend your funeral to hear a lot of righteous fools preaching about how your death proves the war in Iraq is right.

††††††††††† Maybe youíre not proud of me for what I did. Maybe I betrayed America.

††††††††††† But maybe it is America that has betrayed us, stealing people like you from parents like me for no good reason except to make some fat cat rich.

††††††††††† I donít know the truth of any of it.

††††††††††† I just want you to come home alive, to me, not for cheers or flag waving, not because you are a hero or a coward, but because you are you, and I want you to see your grand children the way I got to see mine.

††††††††††† Come home safe, son.




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