Friday, September 24, 2004

A Tale of Two Deserters episode 4

Picture, if you will, two men standing, facing each other on a small, dry suburban lawn, in the white-hot Alabama sun. One is a huge policeman in uniform, the other a largish but still much smaller, boy of about 17. Each, in his own manner, displays smoldering anger with the other.. Meet my father and me.

Meet my generation and the one that fought World War II. Each of us had historical experience that belied the experience of the other. Vietnam was not WWII and WWII was not like Vietnam. Neither seemed able to understand the other.

For me, the war started at home. My father, being a veteran of a truly democratic war against fascism and imperialism, was firmly rooted in the common ideology of his youth.

Everyone participated in WWII. While there were privileged individuals who served at home and in guaranteed non-combat roles, everybody served. And lived by the Code of Military Justice. The man in the fox hole with you may have been the son of a congressman. Americans knew who and what they were fighting.

What a difference 20 years can make:

When I said Vietnam was an illegal undeclared war, he heard enemy propaganda. When I talked about Constitutional guarantees against involuntary servitude, he heard cowardly, lawyer like excuses for not fulfilling one’s God-given, manly duty for his country.

He also thought “This punk thinks he’s better than me. I went and, by God, he’s going too.
I will not be embarrassed by cowardly offspring.”

I know he was thinking those things because he said them, loudly, with much red grimacing and trembling of the jowls. I stood impassively in a half gunfighter stance, arms folded across chest, afraid to speak for fear of showing fear, at a crucial instant.

Violence is more likely if the opposition thinks you are afraid. I was scared shitless, as us red necks would say. But, I was a born actor and street smart enough to adopt a stance less likely to lead to attack from angry policemen/fathers, vicious dogs, or bullies and such.

My father is not a bad man, he was the product of his time, place, and class. As was I. We could not communicate and violence was the solution represented by the uniform he wore. Retreat and deception seemed the only logical avenues to survival, not only of the body but of the self inhabiting the body.

It is a vain avenue of inquiry but I do wonder how that discussion went down between George W. and George Senior. Did they rant and rail against each other and end with threats and an edict of parental, moral, and legal authority? Maybe. But I don’t think so. At least not quite that way. There was a negotiation. And daddy found the compromise:
the National Guard.

Georgie stays out of the war. Gets to call himself a pilot, like dear old dad, continuing the tradition with no risk. Hangs in long enough for the honorable discharge and poof, no embarrassing stain on the dynasty, no dead Georgie wasted in a rice paddy . Lower level combat officers were taking big casualties at that time.

If I were George Senior, I would have done the same. I’m not saying it’s right. I am saying if I had seen the horror and random death that is war, and had the ability to do it, I would have protected my son, as well. But then, as a powerful, well-connected political figure, I hope I would have done something to save all the other sons of America from a pointless, bloody disaster.

But, of course, this wasn’t for America or Americans, it was for George Senior, his embarrassing son, and for the sake of the family dynasty and its position in the old power structure.

Listen up, young and old alike: WWII was a different time and a different war, for a different America. WWII was not like Vietnam. Iraq presents the very real possibility of being more self destructive, to America and to what it means to be an American, than the culpable irrationality of that South East Asian war.

On a personal note: One might get the impression that there is enmity between my father and me. I am very happy to state that is not the case. That was who we were 37 or 38 years ago. We have found a love and respect for each other that did not exist at that time. Love really can conquer all.


At 11:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So when will American Ex be out in paper back?

Nick Walker

At 10:55 PM, Blogger ThomasMcCay said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10:57 PM, Blogger ThomasMcCay said...

Ha! When it has been written. Until then, just keep checking in every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

At 1:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting that you contrast the parental abilities and desires of the aforementioned fathers. An issue of class is at hand, and an issue of cowardice.
Two sons make the same decision, and have distinctly different experiences due to their class. Not a new phenomenon, but an ancient, and often repeated occurence.

The issue of cowardice is much more interesting in this specific case. Did the sons face the same issues as their fathers. Is cowardice measured the same way by rejecting WWII versus rejecting Vietnam.

I would say no. The enemy in each case was a vastly different opponent, and the measurement of cowardice is different for intentional violent conflict avoidance.
Nazis ideology was vile and poisonous. It was necessary for the sons and daughters of Western democracies to stand up and fight against this opponent. Failure to work with one's nation against the Nazis was cowardly, pure and simple.

Vietnam on the other hand, was a different opponent. It was a nation fighting against itself. Fighting against the misconstrued beliefs that its unique history and culture created, but also a war caused by, in large part, the global political climate of the time. What is unique about the Vietnam war. Well, it was unnecessary. So to oppose an unneccary war is not cowardice, but virtue.

That said, as part of the echo generation I wonder how hindsight influences the final judgement of cowardice.
My generation needs foresight.

saro turner

At 2:56 AM, Blogger ThomasMcCay said...

Of course, the issue of class is a key element in the different outcomes of the two individual cases.

However,the manner in which Bush was continually protected, through out his life, and his steadfast refusal to take responsibility for his personal actions, reveal much about the moral character of the man and the true nature of the ruling ideology he represents.

Bush has lost more than his service records.

I think all comparisons between WWII and Vietnam and Iraq are spurious. Interestingly, I've recently heard some apologists for the Iraq policy actually attempt to make direct comparisons between the first 18 months of WWII and the first 18 months of the Iraqi campaign.

Total absurdity.

Cowardice? I don't know. Hindsight alters ones' perspective. It did take an almost reckless courage to what I did. To send myself out alone, without friends or family or support of any kind.

I was a ground crew guy, headed for Thailand. Direct combat was not on the menu. But, what we did there was wrong, ugly, unAmerican and in violation of the Constitution.

I know very courageous men who did the opposite of me. Very honorable, thoughtful, courageous men. Maybe my judgement has just gotten personal in my antiquity. I've seen courage and cowardice in the same body too often to make the clear distinction anymore. Found much of both, inside myself. Like Voltaire, I don't want the responsibility of judgement.

Knowing what I know, I would be a coward if I did not somehow resist this assault on American democracy.

At 3:22 AM, Blogger ThomasMcCay said...

That is a great comment Saro. Several important questions are implied. It deserves a blog, soon.



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