I confess to being a curmudgeonly old poop. But I have an excuse.
In 2013 I attended a symposium with the theme, Fortieth Anniversary, The Vietnamese War POWs Come Home. During one of the panel sessions, a US Air Force pilot, a POW for six years, told us that, as he was about to board the bus to take him to the airport and the flight home, he stopped, turned back for a last look at the Hanoi Hilton, and said, “I forgive you.” He said he hated the North Vietnamese for the torture and deprivation they inflicted on him and on his fellow POWs, and he knew he needed to get that hate out of his heart right then, or it would be with him forever.
So, I confess, I am not the man he is. What hurts most is I have to say that about an air farce puke. Rats!
In 2008, I began work on my first book, I forced myself to read books, articles, and editorials written from the anti-war perspective. At times, reading those works, my teeth ground so hard I was afraid for the structural integrity of my molars. But I read them. And I now know several people who believe it was right to protest in the sixties and seventies, and I have come to admire and respect them.
One of the things I’ve concluded is that when we believe in something fervently, when we have faith in something, it becomes hardwired into our minds and spirits. Being hardwired, it is difficult, and in some cases, impossible to change that wiring, that faith.
To change an element of social fabric, which is time-tested, group-think faith, a polarized, radical, vocal crowd needs to be mobilized. Would there have been an Emancipation Proclamation without abolitionists? Prohibition without radical preaching against Demon Rum? Female vote without femi-nazis (forgive me for the historical/hysterical disconnect)? I have come to believe that our nation experiencing all those things were for the long term betterment of the country. All things in moderation. At times, especially moderation in moderation.
I believe the human race needed a generation at some time, in some country, to stand up and say, “This time, we are not going to fight in your stupid war!”
I believe our country needed to lose a war at some point in history.
The World War II generation has been called “The Greatest Generation.” In James Lee Burke’s novel, The Wayfaring Stranger, the main character says of that generation, “We would be the last generation to believe in the moral solvency of the republic.”
I read that and figured, “That’s right. That’s what happened.” During Vietnam, we stopped believing in the moral backbone of the United States of America, and look what we have now. There is no black and white, only shades of gray, and right and wrong are defined by who gets on twitter first.
All of that, I figured, made my generation the worst. We lost the war. We threw morals out the window.
I had the great privilege to be on the mall in Washington, D.C., between the Capitol and the Washington Monument during the post Desert Storm tribute to the troops. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and praise. I didn’t quite know how to process what I was seeing. In the space of a generation, we went from calling returning vets “Baby Killers” to calling them “Heroes.”
I like the notion of having a Greatest Generation. I like for it to be the ones who fought at home and abroad to resolve that conflict in unconditional surrenders. I no longer mind the notion that my generation might lay claim to the title, “The Worst Generation.” And perhaps the verse my generation contributes to Whitman’s Powerful Play, is “Hell, no, we won’t go!” It is a verse, I am convinced, America needed to hear.
One of the women in my writing critique group commented on Part I of these reflections. She told me that she and her friends were protesting the war, not the country, and that they were right to do so.
She told me in a calm, emotions-under-control, and no-back-down-either tone of voice. She talked to me in a tone of voice that made it easy to listen to her, rather than shouting at me and auto-triggering defense against an attack on my belief, my faith.
So here I am on Vet’s Day eve. I have already admitted learning a lesson in forgiveness from a guy in the junior service, and so now, I confess, my sisters and brothers, that I have learned a lesson in forbearance, in listening from a peacenik.
I think one of the worst things that could happen in our country would be for all of us to think the same. We need to grow, to evolve toward the goals laid down in the Declaration of Independence and in our Constitution. We are human, flawed, imperfect, inclined toward faith in things, which, at times led many of us in very wrong directions. We absolutely need our differences of opinion. We need to challenge faiths, but we need to do so with not only open ears, but with the edges of our faiths open as well to find the flaws in our doctrines. So that we might fix them.
Perhaps a generation or two down the road, we can find our way back to faith in the moral solvency of the nation. Maybe there is a new greatest generation there waiting to make these things happen.
Wait! Did I just say that?
There goes my “Member in Good Standing” status in the Curmudgeonly Old Poops of America Society.