Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

SOLDIERS DON’T FIGHT FOR A CAUSE?

Wars without purpose.   Patriotism without sacrifice.

I hate cliches about war.   I am a Vietnam veteran.   I always get this uncomfortable feeling when someone says, “Thank you for serving your country” or “Welcome home.”   I’ve been home for forty-four years.   These well wishers mean well, but it still feels odd.   As for my service, occasionally, when I start in on, “And there I was, face down in the mud in The Nam,” my wife will interject, “Didn’t you spend two years smoking dope and going to whorehouses for your country?”

Then there is the current cliché, which we hear in endless variations.   It goes something like this.   “Soldiers don’t fight for a cause:  they fight for their war buddy”.

As is the case with almost any cliché, there is an element of truth to this.   Tony Hatcher won two — Two! — Distinguished Flying Crosses in Vietnam during 1970.   In June, under heavy fire, he extracted frantic soldiers.   In November, at great risk, he resupplied desperate infantrymen.   But there is another truth caught in popular culture, in movies from “Beau Geste” to “Full Metal Jacket”, which is that soldiers can be as cruel to each other as they are to their enemy.   Lest we forget, the Vietnam War was infamous for “fragging”.   “Fragging” was murder, the murder weapon, a fragmentation grenade, eliminating its own evidence in the process.   In other words, as is the case with almost any cliché, it’s more complicated than “Soldiers don’t fight for a cause:  they fight for their war buddy”.

But why this cliché?   And why now?   In the last wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, there were no causes to fight for.   Nor was anyone, except the soldiers and their families, asked to sacrifice.

Google “World War II posters”.   Many of them almost scream the war’s purpose and its justification, from “Avenge Pearl Harbor” to my favorite, Jesus being bayoneted by Nazis.   (I am of a generation that cannot say “December 7th” without “a day that will live in infamy”.)   Many World War II posters also speak of sacrifice, a “victory garden”, gas rationing, even car pooling.   In Korea and Vietnam, everyone knew that we had to stop Communism.

But Iraq, Afghanistan?   Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9/11, right?   As for personal sacrifice, George Bush did not call for sacrifice.   He called for shopping.   “Get down to Disney World in Florida,” he also said.   “Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.”

“Soldiers don’t fight for a cause:  they fight for their buddy.”   Why this cliché?   Why now?   Because these are wars without purpose.   Because our republic is called to a patriotism without sacrifice.   Because, while that soldier is asked to go to Afghanistan, while that family is asked to sacrifice, the republic is asked to shop and stop-off at Disney World.

Not long ago, I listened to a soldier speak.   On 9/11, from his apartment’s balcony in Washington, D. C., he watched the Pentagon burn.   The next day, he dropped out of Georgetown Law School, and volunteered to be a buck private in the infantry.   The next year, he found himself guarding a Halliburton truck.   His first war buddy –  “Soldiers don’t fight for a cause:  they fight for their buddy” – was making $100,000 for diving that Halliburton truck.   (It’s worth noting that the driver broke his contract, and went home because “this war is getting dangerous.”)   George Bush was not worthy of the nobility of that soldier’s sacrifice.

And let’s not forget “Support The Troops”.   That cliché goes way back.   I can’t think of “Support The Troops” without remembering April of 1973.   The Vietnam Veterans Against The War organized a protest in our nation’s capital.   A woman went up to one of the protesters, and demanded to know why he wasn’t supporting the troops.   He was a bit dumbfounded.   Finally he just said, “Lady, we are the troops.”

Wars without purpose.   Patriotism without sacrifice.

Then the wars are over.   And the republic puts away its flags, scrapes off its bumper stickers, and considers the latest wars well done.

As for sacrifice – you want to know about sacrifice?

Sometimes, late at night, when wife is asleep, I stare into the dark, and go back to The Nam.   It’s always a fragment of a memory.   The bunker where we smoked dope.   Standing guard in the rain.   The wail of the Red Alert siren.   A landing zone.   A convoy.   Cleaning my M-16.   For as much as I love the memories of my university years, my travels, my beloved wife, The Nam is what I find in the dark.

By John Samuel Tieman

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This entry was posted on June 13, 2014 by in Uncategorized and tagged , .

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