I grew up with 5 uncles; only one of them survives. My Uncle Mickey is 63; recently retired from the Postal Service, he served in Vietnam with two lifelong friends. None of them talk about their Vietnam experience often, and when I was growing up in the seventies and eighties in Philadelphia, no Vietnam veterans EVER talked about their war experiences. Having grown up in a very working-class neighborhood, I knew quite a few men who’d served in Vietnam. My uncles and their buddies (both also close friends of my parents), my neighbor across the street (I babysat for his daughter), many of my friends’ parents, a teacher in high school…they’d tell you that they’d been to Vietnam, but would change the subject if you tried to ask them about it. The first time my uncle and his friends ever mentioned the subject in my presence was three years ago. We were at my mother’s house after the funeral of my next-to-last uncle, Tommy (he’d also been in Vietnam; he’d also never spoken about it). My Uncle Mickey called me over and said “wasn’t your father-in-law a ROK soldier”? My late father-in-law had indeed fought in the South Korean army, and he’d been in Vietnam, too. They all started talking about how the ROK soldiers were the toughest m-fers they’d ever met, but that Vietnam was “just like this crock of shit we’re in now…remember how they were always talking about the ‘coalition’, and it was us, the ROK soldiers, and a half-dozen Australians”. I wasn’t really thinking about what they were saying; it was just that amazing that they were actually talking to me about the war.
None of this is apropos of anything, except that I wonder now, 5 years after the invasion, how the war will affect those who are fighting it 20 or 40 years from now. Will they talk about it? Will they feel that they were fighting for a just cause, or will they be angry at the loss of years of their life toward a war they opposed? I’m sure there will be some of both.
I’m not the most insightful political commentator, and so my posts on politics are usually limited in number and in scope. This one isn’t much different. I’m still angry 5 years later that we were led by deliberate deception into such a destructive war, but do I know if we should pull out immediately, today?
I don’t, really.
I know 5 people (four in “real” life and one online) who have served in Iraq, and I don’t think any of them wants the US to pull out now. I’m not saying that I feel required to agree with them because they have been there and I have not. I’m saying only that I want to consider their opinion and respect their sacrifice. My uncles and their friends are still hurt and angry nearly 40 years after their return home at the indifference and contempt with which they were treated by fellow citizens. They didn’t fully understand the war they were fighting when they were 19 and 20 years old, but they made a tremendous sacrifice and they did their best. I hope that I can question this war without causing the same pain for those who have fought it, who have made such a sacrifice, and who have done their best.
If you're interested in more comments about the 5-year anniversary of start of the Iraq war, click here.