January 18, 1989

War Is Heck!

War is the greatest of all crimes; and yet there is no aggressor who does not color his crimes with the pretext of justice.


War is delightful to those who have had no experience of it.

Desiderius Erasmus(1466-1539)

Thanks to television, the Viet Nam war was the first war where the people at home really got to see a bit of what a war is like. Of course, watching it in your living room is very different from being there and getting shot at --but it gave the public a lot better picture than was ever available in the past. The TV coverage was an important factor in ending that war. If nothing else, the public found out that there was nothing particularly glamorous or heroic about it. Some day, when they add odor to television, we'll be able to smell what it's like. They are very interesting, the stenches of war; especially in the tropics.

I watched the boys come home from Panama, in their impeccable camouflage suits, with green makeup on their faces, artistically applied and suitably touched up for the TV cameras. No matter that the war was not fought in a jungle, but a city, and no matter that the place they were going to was not Central America, but California. I thought that it was comical. It was kids going to a costume party.

I took that stuff seriously when I was their age; but I'm a lot older now and it all seems so very very silly.

I think about how one of my teen age kids acted; as if a zit on his nose was the end of the world. Of course, I did the same thing when I was an adolescent; pimples were the most important thing in the world and it was vitally important how a cigarette looked when dangled from my lips, or what kind of jacket or socks I wore.

I took the army very seriously when I was 18 years old. It was important to me that I not be out of step, that I pass inspection, that my cap was at the proper angle, that my fingers were together when I saluted. If I ever forget, there is a picture of me in uniform, with every button buttoned and every crease ironed. I even wanted to be brave under fire. The thought that I might want to run when someone was shooting at me was a matter of great concern. It never occurred to me that when tracer bullets, airplanes and gunfire filled the night, that there would be no place to run to. You just hug the ground and tremble.

Some of the boys in Panama found out what a bit of war can be like. There's nothing like getting shot at to grow you up in a hurry. For them, it wasn't fun and games any more. For a few, the game was over forever. They didn't get to see the flag-draped coffin and their very own honor guard.

A few of the boys who had been properly "debriefed" were allowed to tell the folks at home how glad they were that The President had sent them to Panama. Those who had their moment of truth under fire, or who lost a buddy, didn't talk on camera. They wouldn't want to talk to the reporters. Their response to the TV people would be the same as that of any combat soldier in any war --"F_ _ _ off!"

The invasion of Panama is now history and Manuel Noriega is in an American prison. We have "won" and George Bush has lost his "wimp" image.

As the clown says in the opera Pagliacci, after his wife and her lover have been killed: "The comedy is ended!"

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