Face the Music, and Face the Past

“Anyone who thinks must think of the next war as they would of suicide.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

“War is terrorism, magnified a hundred times.” –Howard Zinn

If only procrastination were an Olympic sport, I’d have more medals than anybody. It’s stupid and cowardly, yet even after all this time, I still have trouble making myself face details of the Vietnam War. Ordinarily, I love history, but I cannot read about that war. I didn’t even want to see Forrest Gump the first time — and I still skip the combat scenes, or leave the room. Guess it just hits too close to home.

Although if I’d been a guy, it could have hit a hell of a lot closer, since the draft number for my birth date was 30. That year, the military was taking everyone with numbers below 200, give or take deferments and such. And of course, I knew people who were guys. Guys who were drafted. And guys who volunteered. I knew a few who didn’t come back from the war. And too many who did, but with problems, problems they still wrestle with.

At long last, I am trying to come to terms with all this. Then again, it took me fifteen minutes to summon enough nerve to inch my way off a ten-foot diving board the first time I tried — the damn thing wouldn’t stop moving. So it may still take a while. (And yes, that probably means you will suffer through more posts about Vietnam, when and if I get that far.) But I was thinking about the war when I woke up today. And the news is still full of saber-rattling over … Syria … Iran … or whatever — there’s always something the military-industrial jackals can lick their chops over. Then … the first song launched on my music player. Which certainly helped.

What the hell do we keep on fighting for?
We must know by now there is no just war.

Bury Me Far From My Uniform
– Joe Pug

I was fallen dead in battle.
It must have been tuesday, I don’t know the date.
I gave everything everyone asked for,
But I say where I’ll be laid.
The many dead of my comrades
All look the same in this place.
Won’t you bury me far from my uniform,
So god might remember my face.

Do not bother with Congress,
With the rich, or with the rest.
I fought their battles in this world,
But I’ll not fight for them in the next.
Do not find me justice.
Just find me a grave,
And then bury me far from my uniform,
So god might remember my face.

Ah my mother, you’ll weep, and you’ll crumble.
Take me out of your dreams that I’m in.
I can’t take another “what’s not”.
I’m sick to here with “what could have been”.
I’ll not return to your table,
So don’t save me a place.
Just bury me far from my uniform,
so god might remember my face.

I’m not a cause, not a christ, not a ransom.
I’m not a reason, I’m not a debate.
And I swear that I’m no one’s example.
I’m not a number, I’m not a crusade.
War is older than mankind,
But it’s younger than grace.

Won’t you bury me far from my uniform.
From the iron-cross medals I would have worn.
From the statues that sisters and widows mourn.
From the newspaper clippings and microform.
From Geneva, The Hague, and Nuremberg.
From the sex of this world, that I’ll no longer taste.
Won’t you bury me far from my uniform,
So god might remember my face.

I know god will remember my face.
Merciful god, please remember my face.


About l. l. frederick

I'm pretty ordinary, so I find any number of things in the world interesting, among them: books, music, flowers, food, social justice, politics and (sometimes!) people. As for my writing, I've decided that I can be subtle and tasteful when our only problems are esthetic ones. Or when I'm dead, whichever comes first. In the meantime, read at your own risk.
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11 Responses to Face the Music, and Face the Past

  1. Of course the old cliché, “war is hell!,” is meaningless but war IS hell, nevertheless. My aunt’s husband’s sister had(she’s dead now) a picture of this gorgeous young man on her piano and she would always play this very sad song and one day, when I had went to take some books back that I had borrowed, I asked her about that picture and she said that it was of her nephew who had fought in the Vietnam war and had never come back. All those years later and I could see the tears start to stream down her face. I do realize that back then, they had no choice but to go or head to jail for not going.

    Today, it’s either fight the rich man’s battles or die homeless out on the street for lack of jobs and opportunities. And I think that many who join the military do so because they see no other options and it is deliberate that so many millions are MADE so poor that they will sign up to become cannon fodder. The shameless shits that enable this could not get into hell fast enough if one actually exits, to suit me!

    Linda, it is painful for me to think about all those young lives, wasted and for what?

    • Shelby, Young lives wasted, then and now. For what? How the hell do I know? For money and power for somebody, it seems. Blood money. Who needs hell anyway? We havve us, that’s usually enough. If we’re so fucking smart, why can’t we stop such stupidity?

      And I know, I know, it’s … good for business. Can’t get in the way of that! Thanks for your comment, and for giving a shit. – Linda

  2. I was never given any choice in Vietnam, or going to war against Grenada, Panama, El Salvador, Afghanistan or Iraq twice. The corporate elite sends American boys and girls off to war, even when the majority of Americans oppose it. They do it to increase their profits, to rob even more wealth from the working class. And they will keep on doing it until we figure out some way to end corporate rule.

    • Stuart, Thanks for your comment, which WordPress unaccountably stuck into my spam queue — encouraging me to check it more often? Who knows.

      Choices? Government by the people? Or just by … certain people? We seem to get very damn little of anything I thought I have voted for, certainly. Something, maybe everything, needs to change, and soon.

      It’s hard to find anyone who even admits they ever had a damn thing to do with proposing or executing stupid public policies. Like wars. Guess it all just happens, without the benefit of human agency.

      Almost like my friend Lila’s stories of her much-battered farm fence. It bordered two sharp bends along a country road, curves many drivers seemed to miss now and then. She would laugh, and quote the notes she often found on broken fence sections, which usually ran something like this – “My car hit your fence.” Some expressed regret, but few claimed responsibility for the damage.

      But I think we have a pretty good idea who’s responsible for the plight of our nation and world — those who’ve gained so much money and power and arrogance at our expense. – Linda

  3. Jeff Nguyen says:

    Your experience of life in the draft years reminds me of the Hunger Games. A world beyond war is possible but, unfortunately, it’s going to take many heated battles to take us there. Oh, and diving boards always scared me too.

    • Jeff – Hunger Games on steroids, yes. We are considered merely commodities, units of consumption, units of production if we’re lucky enough to have work, and units of metadata. If we are more — and I think we are — we’ll have to prove it to our oblivious elites. The hard way, most likely. The struggle is never easy, and looks like it never ends.

      Thanks for your comment — and for not laughing at me for the diving board thing. I STILL! can’t stand them! – Linda

  4. Jeff Nguyen says:

    Meant to add regarding the Hunger Games…the idiocy of waiting to be the one picked to kill others who never did anything to you or be killed, yourself.

  5. tubularsock says:

    I too have had trouble facing the Vietnam war. I was a war resister and I also counseled war resisters both in university and later as a high school teacher. Many times the school board attempted to pressure me to not do what I was committed to do but I would not stop.

    I was prepared to go to Canada when my deferment manipulations ended but by sheer dumb luck two weeks before the regulations changed I had a son. So like Dick Cheney we both “babied-out”.

    Unlike Dick, I felt it was a gift to continue my draft resistant counseling and I did.

    I worked along with the Quakers but I’m not a conscientious objector. I’m opposed to wars of aggression by my country and will not participate except to oppose them.

    That didn’t fly well with my family and my friends so I stepped out of both those relationships and continued my quest.

    To this day I have never gotten an answer to my question, Why in the hell did we go to war in Vietnam. At least not one that has satisfied me!

    Every war since Vietnam has had the same footprint. And have all been WRONG!

    • Tubularsock – Thank you so much for your comment, and for your work against the war. I know people who sincerely felt military service was their patriotic duty. And I know people like you who sincerely opposed the war as a patriotic duty. I’m not sure there is ever a “just war”, but none we have fought in my lifetime seems even close. When your country is so much more powerful than anyone else, when you have more weapons and bigger armies, maybe any war is bound to be aggressive. Do we really need to authorize a drone strike to kill a mosquito?

      The ‘same footprint’? And the same old boot-stomps? Oh hell yes, And don’t you get sick of going through that insulting, cynical deja-vu war-frenzy buildup over and over? the same tired old excuses, the same obvious propaganda, to prime each new war. The same old shit they probably used psyching us into fighting those godless savage … Neanderthals, Huns, Persians, Mongols, and on and on, right down to today’s terrifying terrorists who just don’t value life the way we do. The same old atrocity tales — babies on bayonets, babies tossed from incubators. Whatever they can say to blind enough of us to the fact that we are sending our children to kill and be killed by other children, for no good reason. For a little bit of money, for a little bit of land, for a little bit of oil. For Mom and the flag, for the glory of god. Yeah, those are all great reasons for killing.

      Oddly enough, my birth meant my father was spared from serving in the Korean War — nothing I can take credit for, but I’m still glad it worked out that way. Maybe he could have gotten more education or a better home loan as a veteran. But at what price? I still wonder if I’ve done anything as significant since then.

      Okay, I’ll shut up now, for a while. Again, thank you for sharing your experience with us, and for your patience with my rantings. – Linda

    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      High school teacher, war resister counselor…my admiration for you continues to grow, Tubular. I, too, hold far different political views than my family, besides my wife and children, and often feel like we live in two different worlds.

      “To this day I have never gotten an answer to my question, Why in the hell did we go to war in Vietnam. At least not one that has satisfied me!”…I think Howard Zinn nailed it in this passage from People’s History…

      “Earlier in 1963, Kennedy’s Undersecretary of State, U. Alexis Johnson, was speaking before the Economic Club of Detroit:

      What is the attraction that Southeast Asia has exerted for centuries on the great powers flanking it on all sides? Why is it desirable, and why is it important? First, it provides a lush climate, fertile soil, rich natural resources, a relatively sparse population in most areas, and room to expand. The countries of Southeast Asia produce rich exportable surpluses such as rice, rubber, teak, corn, tin, spices, oil, and many others. …”

      Once you cut through all the geopolitical b.s…domino theory, red scare, exporting democracy, French colonial interests, the answer in my view comes to one, ok two, easily understood truths. A)The Vietnamese people had resources that the U.S. wanted and B) The U.S. government made up it’s mind it was going to take it from them. I know I’m not sharing anything you or Linda don’t already know. Just get tired of seeing the cycles repeat themselves so we can inflict more trauma on civilian populations who just want to live in peace.

      If this was a rhetorical question, I apologize after the fact for my lengthy comment. I’ll bet you were a kick ass teacher.

  6. tubularsock says:

    Jeff, you are too kind. Yes, I am familiar with Zinn’s work and pretty much agree with his view in the People’s History of the United States. Our national track record is to kill our way to control stuff we need. It’s called our “national interest” and nothing seems to get in the way that we as a nation won’t kill or bludgeon our way through. Disgusting.

    I was teaching pretty much what Zinn wrote about in my U.S. History courses but I was moving to a new life change about two years before he published his history book in the 1980’s so I never had the advantage of using his alliterative text. Would had made it easier for me and saved the school a lot mimeograph paper.

    Must have been very difficult for you growing up with all the conflicts you had to face. With that you seemed to have come out of that pretty brilliantly so I guess that’s the pay off.

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