By the time I post this, it will be the day after Memorial Day.

I can’t post an essay on Memorial Day. I have trouble with Memorial Day. Not because the holiday isn’t a valid one; not because we shouldn’t set aside a day to remember those who have died in wars fought by our country.

My problem stems from my own uneasiness at having people thank me for my service.

I understand that they mean well; I appreciate the recognition that perhaps my role as a nurse might have helped bring comfort and care to other young citizens who were sent to Viet Nam as foot-soldiers. But when a well-wisher adds that we, the American military in Viet Nam, kept America safe and free…

That’s when I have trouble.

How should I react, when I know that the Viet Nam War did nothing to keep us safe or free?

This was the American war in Viet Nam: politicians sent a great many of the younger citizens of the US halfway around the world to wreak havoc upon a small Asian country for the flimsiest of political purposes. Then those politicians kept them–us–there for a very long time.

In that very long time, many of those young citizens were killed. They killed even more of the citizens of that small Asian country. They completely ruined its economy. They forced deadly us-or-them alliances on citizens there who needed some work, any work, to survive. They sowed mines and deadly herbicides.

They–we–did all this at the behest of those politicians. It was nothing personal.

I guess I don’t see how that kept us safe and free.

I do see that it left the US poorer by billions of dollars. Weaker in health, due to direct injury and the results of Agent Orange and PTSD. More unstable domestically, because of ambivalence to the war, but also because of the affects of the aforementioned health ills on the rest of the country’s citizens, among whom they lived, and live. It left the US shorter of young citizens–both those whose names are on the Wall, and those whose names probably should be. It left the country weaker in conscience–because to kill or to condone killing, for the flimsiest of political reasons, is a dehumanizing thing. And when this dehumanization is later twisted–knowingly, arrogantly, astonishingly–into a reason why we must not oppose sending current younger citizens into yet another senseless and unjust war…

Well.
So here we are, the day after Memorial Day, still struggling with the View Nam War, a burden inflicted upon the US 50 years ago by politicians.

And there is Viet Nam, the small Asian country, still struggling with the burden of the American War: the deaths we so cavalierly inflicted upon them, the disruption of lives, the yet-undetected mines and the birth defects and cancers and heart disease our chemicals still cause. It seems that we could leave after our war, since it wasn’t our country we’d defoliated and burned and left to fester, but they remained citizens of Viet Nam.

Are we safer for all this, and freer? Is Viet Nam?

Please.

And now we’ve got two other wars that politicians have sent, and send, young citizens into, halfway around the world in small Middle-Eastern countries.

Are we safer and freer yet?

Make no mistake: Our foot-soldiers are almost all good people with good intentions. As were we.

It is not the foot-soldiers’ fault that there are wars, and that they are sent into these wars for the flimsiest of political purposes. A veteran of Pearl Harbor, who many years later had an amiable dinner with the Japanese pilot who sank his ship, once told me that foot-soldiers on both sides of any war are just pawns in political games.

And that is what makes me the most angry, on Memorial Day: The politicians who start these wars, who direct them and blithely discuss starting new ones, do not bleed. They do not cry out in the night. Their families are not left to mourn, or to try to breach the walls that foot-soldiers build to deal with the battlefield. They do not have to fight for jobs, for education, and for healthcare.

They do not have to force their country to care for them.

Politicians merely play the game of war like a video game. They operate foot-soldiers as if by remote control to create the havoc they, the politicians, have masterminded. They tell the foot-soldiers they’re proud of their service. Then they refuse to give them what they need to live life fully and well after they have been so cruelly used for the flimsiest of political purposes.

One could say: We shouldn’t have elected the politicians. But who knows what he will get when he elects a politician? Perhaps they lie. Or perhaps they start out good men, but they get caught up in the game. Perhaps they forget that the young citizens they send to kill and die for the flimsiest of political purposes are human beings.

Perhaps they forget that their political purposes are flimsy. Perhaps they forget that they themselves are human beings.

Perhaps we, the people–we the citizens; we the foot-soldiers–must remind them.

Whenever a politician advocates war, we must insist he drop everything and go to that war. Not as a general, but as a foot-soldier. Not as a hypothetical question, but as an all-out obligation. With no regard to age, gender, affiliation, present employment or family situation:

If you will immediately enlist in the infantry as a foot-soldier, we will indeed go to war.

Because if you feel that the political purpose behind a war makes it too flimsy for you, yourself, to fight, what right do you have to send another human being in your place?