The Big Why?
I can well imagine that Christmas will be a somber affair for many Americans this year. It certainly will be a time of mute celebration in Iraq. The fireworks there not being of the celebratory variety.
I watch very little American TV news but I can imagine the patriotic human interest stories being played out on the networks, after the bombing of the mess tent in Mosul.
Heart touching stories of All American young men and the communities they will not be returning to. The families they are lost to, will be quoted. In their grief and misplaced loyalty they will say how proud they are of the dead young man and the noble cause he died for.
What else do you really expect them to say? Unless they have already been asking themselves the right questions, anything else will seem to lessen the memory of the departed and to question the value of his sacrifice. Humans don't work that way.
But go back and ask them again in a couple of years or less. Some lonely night the unanswered question, Why? will creep into the hearts of those who cared most and that question will never have a good believable answer.
Thirty five years ago we were asking ourselves that same question, born of grief and the despair of loss. The question was never ever answered to any ones' satisfaction.
About thirty years ago, I made a brief trip back to the States. I had made arrangements with a civilian lawyer, in Seattle, who, as it turned out, did not know what he was talking about. He did not know that the Army and the Air Force had radically different policies regarding long term AWOLs such as myself.
That bungle and how I eventually pulled myself from the frying pan and back to Canada, is a story for another time. Right now I want to talk about the big mean looking, red faced border guard who made a point of telling me what he thought of me and my situation.
I had been at the American border station for maybe half an hour, waiting for the FBI, or as it turned out, the Belleview police, to cart me off. Still trusting in the 'deal' my so called lawyer had made, I expected the FBI to pick me up any moment and deliver me to the nearest Air Force base where I would be jacked around for a week with admin. BS and booted out with a bad discharge.
The border guards had made calls and arrangements of their own while I was awaiting my men in black. I noticed one big ass border guard who kept looking at me in a very intense manner. He was a huge blond haired, red faced man with forearms the size of my thighs. I had no desire to antagonize this guy, in any way.
I was sitting behind a little metal table I had been directed to when Officer Hugefist approached me with real emotion in his eyes. I figured I was in for a serious beating.
He placed those big hands on either side of the table and leaned in to talk low, eye to eye. The first thing he said, in a very tight voice was, "I had a son, just about your age. He died in Vietnam..."
You can imagine that I saw the gates of hippie hell opening wide to swallow me whole. His blue policeman's eyes held such anguish, I can not describe. Where I grew up, men usually express such painful emotion with violence.
"I wish to God he had gone to Canada instead. I'm glad you aren't dead. I'm glad your fathers' son is still alive."
The man had wanted to tell me about his son and to tell me, a kid in his lock up, that he was glad I'm not dead.
In spite of my circumstances and the relief I felt that he didn't hate me, the sadness I saw in that big tough man stays with me today. Now, removed from the fear that oppressed me at the time, those sad eyes and the sense of loss they betrayed, are my strongest memories of what proved to be a very harrowing time.
Today, I think about that man and the dark worm of sorrow and regret that had lodged in his heart and the angst in his voice when he said, "Nobody can give me one god damned good reason why. Nobody."
No one ever will be able to produce a good answer to that question. A good answer stops the question but there are no good answers.
For a lot of the kids doing the dirty work in Iraq, this will be their first Christmas away from home and family. For some families, this season will mark the begining of living with the unanswerable why.