A few nights ago, actually at 2:00am, I woke to a strange rumbling sound outside my bedroom window. Somehow, probably a faulty GPS, an eighteen wheeler rig was down shifting and jack braking at the quiet 3 way intersection where my house sits in the leafy suburb of Arnold Mills in Cumberland, Rhode Island. The middle of the night intrusion was oddly unsettling in that it broke the sense of personal tranquility I’ve come to expect in my life. It took some time for me to return to a fretful sleep.
That morning’s newspaper contained the usual litany of world horrors; suicide explosions at mosques and police stations in Baghdad, U.S. drone attacks against “targeted” ISIS positions, Saudi Arabian bombings in Yemen and Boko Haram kidnappings and murders in Nigeria. Still, I’d been unnerved by a lost truck on my street.
Neocons in Washington are beating the drums for more American boots on the ground to destroy ISIS while most polling surveys suggest U.S citizens have become “war weary”. Perhaps it is time for me to look at personal history to understand what real “war weariness” has meant during my lifetime.
July, 1952 :
As a six year old trying to sleep in my family’s small bungalow in Pawtucket I’d be distracted by the long, slow whistle of a Providence & Worcester freight train crossing a nearby trestle.
In Pyongyang, Korea six year olds heard the sounds of American planes dropping bombs on their city. The attack was part of the Korean conflict which devastated the country from 1950 thru 1953 as communism and democracy took their differences to the battlefield. 36,516 heroic U.S. military men perished and approximately 1,500,000 Korean citizens, Nort and South, lost their lives.
On July 27th, 1953 an armistice was signed in Panmunjom which set the 38th parallel as the boundary between the two countries. General Mark W. Clarke declared he has, “the unenviable distinction of being the first U.S. Army commander to sign an armistice without victory”.
But, 6 year old children on both sides of the 38th parallel could finally rest their war weary heads in relative peace.
Fall, 1968 :
It was my second night in the barracks at Fort Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska. I woke up to the sound of my desk lamp dancing across the top of a small table next to my bed. The window shade was flapping against the closed panes while a low, sustained rumble provided background music. Tremors from a small earthquake were officially welcoming me to Alaska.
Meanwhile, 5,700 miles to the southwest of Anchorage in Viet Nam, 535,100 fellow American service personnel were in the middle of a decade long battle which would see more than 58,000 U.S. casualties. Operation Rolling Thunder, a 3 1/2 year American bombing campaign, finally ceased on November 1st of 1968. During this stretch 643,000 tons of bombs were dropped, 900 aircraft lost, 818 brave American pilots died or went missing and 182,000 North Vietnam citizens were killed. The intent was to discourage the North Vietnamese regime from sending more troops to the south. Despite the massive damage to the North’s infrastructure; buildings, railroads, and ammunition depots destroyed, the strategy failed and the carnage continued until we withdrew in 1973.
Now in 2015 politicians, most of whom critics label “chicken hawks” because they have no military experiences of their own, want us to escalate our presence once again in the Middle East. The lack of mandatory service in our country has placed decision makers, and their children, further than ever from the stench of war.
Since World War II America has been engaged in numerous skirmishes, conflicts and wars. In many instances we did not initiate the original problems, but we certainly exacerbated the bloodshed and ramped up the utter despair in these regions. On very few occasions was there a clear cut rational for entering these battles and, tragically, less of a vision for the long term outcomes.
With the exceptions of the nightmares of 9/11 and the 2013 Boston Marathon our country has been spared the true horrors of modern war on our soil. So, when American citizens complain of being “war weary” it is sadly ironic and dishonest. We get to sleep untroubled at night, perhaps, like me, only disrupted by a lost truck.
If, however, we mean that we are finally weary after decades of participating, with no absolute moral imperative, in actions which destroy entire villages, towns, cities and countries while traumatizing, and, perhaps radicalizing, entire generations of children, then that is a war weariness we should best heed and act upon.
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