Wednesday, September 21, 2016

- War and peace

Retrospective (10/6)

Patch #265 Peace sign

Original Post 

I've been struggling with the sheer volume of words that rushed through my mind on World Peace Day. In real time, I am writing this two days later, but it has been back-dated.

In any case, on Tuesday Don and I attended a Wittliff event at Texas State University featuring author Tim O'Brien. I wish I had taken pictures, but I was too into what he was saying to think of it, so I'm relying on some Google search screen shots to help tell the story ...

He spoke about war, with which he has had much experience ...

And as he spoke, he did not smile. He frankly stated that he hated to talk about war. Quite frankly, I hated listening in equal measure. But I give Texas State a lot of credit for making war the focus of this year's Common Experience (, as we will never learn to avoid war without squarely facing its realities.

Tim O'Brien spoke in stories about how sleep eludes him, even 45 years after his return from Vietnam ... about "Mad Mark" who loved killing, then took his own life ... about the eleven year old girl he found dead in a rice paddy after a fire fight ... about fear and horror and death and ultimately, the futility of it all.

Three million dead and we lost the war. North Vietnam took over the South and what happened? Did dominoes fall? Did the world end? Was it worth it?

"Look at my shirt," he said (and I'm paraphrasing here). "My wife bought it at JC Penney ... $12.99 ... and the label inside the collar reads 'Made in Vietnam.'"

So what was it all for?

He spoke of the casualties of war ... the mothers, fathers, wives, children and others touched by the wounds, mental and physical, of those who went to war. I thought of the casualties in my own family: my cousins, two brothers. One served in Vietnam and came home hopelessly addicted. The other got a teaching deferment, doing something he hated to avoid the draft. Both died in middle age. Both were casualties, as were their families.

There were over 200 students in the room, listening. Learning, I hope. Tim O'Brien took questions, including this last one from a woman interning at a VA hospital. She asked what he thought of the phrase, "Thank you for your service."

"I hate it," he said (and here again I'm paraphrasing), "What are you thanking me for? 'Thank you for killing for me?' ... 'Thank you for going in my place?'"

There were many more words, too many to relate here, but if you google "Tim O'Brien" you can find videos of him speaking. His words continue to echo in my mind, reinforcing what I've always known in my heart about the utter uselessness of war. 

And I think of what I've always wanted to say to veterans, words that we as a nation owe to too many in this world: 

            "I'm sorry we did this to you."