The main event for today: A Soldier’s Story. In light of reading All Quiet on the Western Front, and our recent studying of WWI and WWII, the school invites veterans from just about every war of the previous century to come and talk, as a yearly event. The veterans can give a wide range of responses and stories – generally, the ones from Ithaca are Vietnam veterans, as they only went due to the draft. The rest are pretty much up in the air.
Veteran Number One, Sergeant Major Looplund:
This guy was probably 80-something years old, and an E-9 in the Marines and Active-duty reserves. He’d been in WWII, Korea, and I think Vietnam, I’m not sure on that one. He was drafted in the beginning, but chose to stay with the Marines to this day. As with all Marines, he was deployed to the Pacific in WWII, and in specific, Iwo Jima. In his fully reinforced company of 255 men (there were others, obviously, just not with him), only 35 survived the assault on the island. Nobody asked if he’d ever killed anyone – there were 21,000 Japanese on the island, and only 1000 survived. You do the math.
His company was intended to join the other divisions for a direct assault on Japan – but his company had suffered too many casualties, and was pulled back to Hawaii, re-equip, and the join the other divisions, but before the assault was approved, the atomic bombs were dropped. Something that really struck me about that, is this: “If the atomic bomb had not been dropped, I would not be here today. The Japanese were fanatics; when we landed, every man, woman, and child would be waiting to resist us.”. After WWII, he stayed as an Active Duty reserve, and was activated during both Korea and Vietnam, but I’m not sure if he fought or not.
This guy basically represents, to me, the wisdom you gain with age. He knew what he was talking about. He never swore, not even once. He was detailed, succinct, polite, and basically, just a strong soldier. He had perspective. Someone asked if he wanted to join the war, and he didn’t rant and rave about how war is pointless, how America is stuck on hating the world. I, for one, appreciate that. But he didn’t lie, he gave an honest answer. He sounded proud of his achievements and his past, but acknowledged the reality of what happened. He had also moved on from whatever might have happened – he wasn’t plagued by memories and nightmares. That, right there, is a man I can respect. Part of the reason I respect him highly is I didn’t realize exactly how bitter one can be until the second veteran.
And that, I kid you not, is not because he is (or claimed to be) a Christian.
Veteran Number 2:
This was some girl’s dad (Juliet’s – the one who screamed at me for being a Republican early in the year), I can’t remember his last name. He never gave many details on his rank and position. He was about 50 years old, and fought in the Vietnam War. He was born in Ithaca, and thus obviously only went because he was drafted. He was a semi-pacifist at the time. He was rarely in direct combat while in the army. To be honest, I don’t know what he did. He was really definitely affected by Agent Orange, as he couldn’t keep on a single track for too long, often went on tangents, stopped to cry 3 times (this was his 3rd time speaking today alone). He said that of the 25 places sprayed most with Agent Orange, he stayed at 18 of them.
After spending some time in Vietnam, he was recruited for a series of special bombing runs against North Vietnamese encampments. His job was to go with 4 other soldiers, sneak to other bases, record the coordinates, and take them back to the artillery. I don’t trust the accuracy of his guesses, but he said the missions saved thousands of Americans and killed thousands more Vietnamese, and still regretted doing them. After that he went into a long thing on how Bush was a liar, coke addict, alcoholic tyrant who wants to be a hero. I almost forgot to mention – he swore a LOT.
I had to come back to English later in the day to make up an essay, and he was talking about the same thing to another class. I asked him why he thought that, and man, do I regret asking that. I got about 5 or 10 minutes of curse-filled earfuls on how Bush is the worst thing since poop on a stick. Honestly, I only said three things to him. The first statement, then “I dunno…I just disagree.” and finally “It’s not that I think you’re crazy, I just disagree, that’s all.”. Lesson learned. Needless to say, I don’t have much respect for this guy. Yeah, ‘Nam was bad, so was WWI, so were the Crusades, say what you will, there’s nothing new under the sun.
This is a very long musing on war. Shoot me down if you so please. A lot of my musings are probably not befitting of a kid, but hey, I feel like writing, so I am.
This kind of brings me to my whole view on war. The curriculum at our school is really geared towards getting to go see how horrific war is, on realizing it’s a bad thing, all that jazz. I don’t really buy it. That’s a gross oversimplification of my views, but that’s basically the sum of it.
- All wars are not fought the same way.
All Quiet on the Western Front is a graphic and sometimes nasty portrayal of what happened during WWI – the most pointless, and yet possibly the nastiest war of the previous century. WWI is an exception, like Vietnam, to what war is like. WWI happened in the middle of a technological revolution, and left armies with tools fit only for trench warfare, and by the end, were crushed by sheer numbers and starvation. WWI was before the first Geneva Convention – weapons outlawed long ago in today’s age were weapons of fear and mass destruction. Flamethrowers, gas, shotguns, anything went. Because these were new and better weapons, they were used without warrant. It was war – nobody stopped to ask questions. Vietnam is, in some ways, same thing. Agent Orange, Napalm, it was superior tactics on page, but when implemented were really terrible things, and nobody realized until later. WWII, Korea, Iraq, these do not suffer from the same things.
- All wars do not have the same purpose.
The best example here is WWI versus WWII. WWI was a war that started almost entirely out of pride in your respective country – it was just an excuse to exert your country’s ability. It was not out of hatred for other countries, but from love of your own. WWII, was far different. WWII was one gigantic resistance to stop three countries from taking over the world. Contrary to popular opinion, it was not to stop the genocide of Jews (which is similar to the myth that the Civil War started because of disagreements on slavery), although that did encourage Allied involvement. Treating war as a whole is a gigantic oversimplification of what it really is.
- All wars are not won the same way.
Wars are not won if you are fighting for the correct reason. Wars are not lost if you are fighting for the wrong reason. Wars are not won by superior numbers. Wars are entirely dependent on how involved the country is in that war. Sergeant Major Looplund said something very striking: Soldiers hear about the reactions back at home from the newspapers and radio – if they’re only hearing protests and complaints, and no support, what’s gonna happen? This is true, regardless of time. Motivation, morale, that’s what the soldier needs. If a country wants to win a war, they’ll put a complete effort behind it – towards technological advances, gathering of resources, production of materials, behind supporting the soldiers. A divided country is a weak country. That, my friends, is why we spent app. 18 years in Vietnam, and why we are still in Iraq. Both of those have been spearheaded by ineffective military strategies, but, that is beside the current point. Do not think I am comparing Iraq to Vietnam, though. Iraq isn’t even close.
War is often portrayed as the worst of things that can happen between humans. To me, it’s definitely bad, I do not doubt that, but war is just another implementation of sin, human nature. War is not innately more horrific than what happens elsewhere in our lives. We’re just more accustomed to the other things.
In other news, I have another color template I’d like you guys to comment on. Tell me if you like it. It’s not gonna get implemented any time soon, but, it will eventually get around here.