So, it’s not exactly like Vietnam. No draft this time, so is that why no one seems to pay attention to the fact that 1000 of our soldiers – our mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters—have now died in Afghanistan, not to mention the 5456 U.S. service members who have died in Iraq, according to the Washington Post (http://projects.washingtonpost.com/fallen/)? And this does not include the number of Iraqi solders and civilians who have lost their lives during these military actions (Estimates range wildly regarding Iraqi deaths since 2003 from something like 96,000 to over a million, according to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Iraq_War). 2412 civilians were estimated to have died in Afghanistan in 2009, alone.
A voluntary military. Is that the reason these wars are now a part of our daily culture and don’t even make the news anymore? Why people are not walking in mass protest, lined arm and arm like back in the days of Vietnam?
Aside from the deaths, how many more of our sons and daughters have come back missing limbs, or with undiagnosed post traumatic stress, a condition that the Veterans’ Administration has been denying claims for for years. (I just heard about a case of a Vietnam Vet whose claim, originally made in 1972, was finally allowed, 28 years later.)
We let our young men and women die and get maimed, both physically and psychologically, but then don’t even take care of the damage our government has gifted them with? Something’s wrong with this picture. And to justify it all with clichés like “We have to support our troops because they’re fighting for our freedom,” is just plain wrong, begs the question of what they, what we are fighting for. What secret government agendas are beneath it all? Government, corporate political territorial, interests in oil and drug production and trafficking? Keeping unemployment numbers down by maintaining a voluntary military? While we keep being fed lines about justice and freedom and the American way. What about the rights of our sons and daughters who join up, never really knowing what they’re getting themselves into, to pursue their rights to life, liberty and happiness without spending the rest of their lives stymied by the effects of a war that shouldn’t be our problem?
And how many more billions of dollars do we need to spend, diverting funds (and the public’s attention) from domestic programs that sorely need them in this time of economic uncertainty and drastic cuts in government budgets and programs? Like education programs in this country that have been cut left and right, despite our nation’s continuing downward fall in this area in comparison with other countries. Why? Because, we are told, we can’t afford it.
But we can afford guns and death and the further destruction and chaos that results to all the families affected by War. We can always seem to afford these personal tragedies and and sacrifices for some reason. The question is how much more can we afford and how much more will we collectively take before we, as citizens, stand tall, stand together, like back in the day, and say “Enough is enough?”
He was nineteen
dying in a field
in a foreign land.
That was all he knew.
He wasn’t feeling brave
but only afraid
as he felt the life
slipping out of him.
He didn’t know who was right
or who was wrong
as they argued about it
in the grocery stores
in the newspapers
at the filling stations
and he lay dying
in this field of green.
He didn’t feel as if it were an honor to die
he didn’t feel dignified
a boy longing for home.
He didn’t know anything now
just the pain;
he wasn’t thinking about bleeding-heart liberals
or staunch conservatives
only about all the things he wouldn’t see
he wouldn’t do in his life
now that it would all be over so soon
and the fear of the unknown
of what was soon to come.
He didn’t know much about politics about “stand firm”
or “the right plan”
he didn’t know
was better for the country
(now he would never get the chance to vote).
He only knew
he was nineteen
and he was going to die
before he had a chance
and he wasn’t really sure
we got machine guns with rocket launchers
and “seven bonus weapon delivery systems!”
we barricaded ourselves behind snow banks
tossed plastic green grenades
made the whistling sounds
and the cartoon KABOOMS! for the landing effects
and our friends did fake shrieks as if hit.
We didn’t know this was real
living in the suburbs
with our little patches of manicured lawn
green grass edge trimmed to perfection
against the hard sidewalk surface
even though Vietnam loomed closer
body counts mounting on the TV news everyday
we were just kids
we would live forever
and it was just another show
until my brother went
the one I always looked up to
who protected me from the world
the one I asked for advice about everything
what to wear
what to eat
what music to listen to.
But the day
I missed him–
there was a hole in my chest–
for eight miserable months
waiting to hear from him
a letter a card.
Then one day
a man in a uniform came to the door
my mother told me to leave the room
and when he left
my mother was crying on the couch
a hanky to her face
she looked up at me
through the clouds of tears
that lost look on her face
and didn’t say a word
just pulled me to her
held me tight,
so tight that it hurt.
My brother did come home
came home in a box
no one left to protect me from the world
as they lowered him into the ground.
But who had protected him?
And who will protect them all from the world now?
Red White Black and Blue Again
Put on the rose-colored 3-D glasses again
pretend everything’s hunky dory
gonna be all right
film highlights at eleven
John Wayne storming the hill in Nam
John Wayne shooting Injuns off their horses
-pa-ping!- -pa-ping!- -pa-ping!-
not a scratch on him
only grins, grimaces and maybe
a slightly grazing flesh wound
green beret on his head
ten gallon hat on his head
“It’s gonna be all right
cause this is America
land of the free
and home of the brave,
He downs a shot of rot-gut, says:
“Uncle Sam needs you”
with a grin and a wink
index finger pointing towards you
“See the world in the
“Learn exciting careers in the
“We need a few good men in the
a few good men
a few good men
and fade to black
that’s a take.
There’s No Time for Sergeants
and Gomer Pyle
and Major Hogan and Colonel Klink
laugh tracks and
loveable hapless Nazis—
what a concept.
Watch the bombs drop over Baghdad
From the comfort of your very own living room
as you eat dinner on your TV trays.
“And we’ll be back to the bombing
right after this word from our sponsors.”
Drink Coke, Coca-Cola
Be part of the Pepsi Generation
Have it your way at McDonald’s
And Nike: Just Do It.
Soldier newborn not yet seen
dressed in a camouflage outfit
he’s even got the beret
as he coos and his little pink legs twitch
(Will his daddy live to see him gurgle, walk, and talk?)
drink your Coke
drink your Pepsi
wave that flag
wave it red white black and blue again.
Not Slim Pickens riding the Big Boy this time
no nonstop shots of body bags on parade this time
just love-it-or-leave-it warfare
no questions asked or answers given
or 21-gun salutes
no films of bloodied body parts
or of legless nineteen year-olds,
boys dying in the field
clutching their girls’ pictures
kissing them one last time
before shutting their eyes forever.
But there are reasons for this
For sacrificing our young to
The Great War Machine
The Right Thing
The Terrorists the Terrorists the Terrorists
and Pride Honor and Glory
Proud as we lay flowers on our
youngest son’s grave
he served his country with Honor, with Pride,
served his Country
answered the Call
lose not sight of this
of the greater Good
But when it’s all done and through
when the streets are bustling with activity again
and the dead are long gone and buried
will they remember this tear
this stone on this grave
the broken-hearted days and nights–
will they remember my son at all?
© 2010 by Mitchell Waldman
About the author
Mitchell Waldman’s fiction and poetry has previously appeared in or will appear shortly in such magazines as Wilderness House Literary Review, Eclectic Flash, The Battered Suitcase, Five Fishes Journal, Moronic Ox Literary and Cultural Review, Eclectic Flash, Wind Magazine, The HazMat Literary Review, Innisfree, Poetpourri, The Advocate, Mobius, The Parnassus Literary Review, Desperate Act, First Literary Review, Delirium, CWG Newsletter, Poetalk, Poet’s Page, Poetic Hours, The Poetry Peddler, Poetry Forum, The Poet’s Haven, Verbal Expression, Bold Print, Woven Worlds, Long Story Short, 13th Story, Unknowns, Rochester Shorts, The Rochester Times-Union, and in the anthologies, Beyond Lament: Poets of the World Bearing Witness to the Holocaust (Northwestern University Press, 1998), and Messages from the Universe (iUniverse, 2002).
Waldman’s book reviews have appeared at Scribes World and Midwest Book Review.
He is also the author of the novel, A Face in the Moon, and was co-editor (with Diana May-Waldman) of the anthology, Wounds of War: Poets for Peace. For more information on his writing, check out his website at: http://mitchwaldman.homestead.com.