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.