Monday, May 31, 2004


Today is the day that we remember those who have lost their lives fighting for our country. To protect our freedoms. Today is also a day that I remember all of those who didn't lose their corporeal lives, but instead, lost something that was theirs and now isn't. They lost some of their joy. They lost some of the belief in this government that is supposed to stand for democracy. They lost their trust in what's right and good. Specifically I think about my Aunt Sue and all the other people who went to Vietnam in the 60s and 70s to fight a "war" on the orders of their government. Aunt Sue studied to be a nurse at Stanford University and to pay for that education, she agreed to join the Navy for a period of time after she graduated.

When I was a little kid my Aunt Sue was the most fun person I knew - and she still is a lot of fun today - she's really smart, and she's really funny, and she is a talented artist, and back then she had red hair and blue eyes and was always having fun with her friends. She listened to rock and roll music and I thought she was the coolest girl ever.

In 1967 she left for Vietnam aboard the USS Sanctuary, a large white hospital ship with a huge Red Cross painted on the side - this would be lit up at night so that enemy aircraft would know that this was not a fighting vessel and hopefully not attack it. My grandparents went up to San Francisco to watch the ship sail away, carrying their daughter to South East Asia. My grandmother stood on the Golden Gate bridge and cried as the ship sailed under it and everyone on the ship stood and waved at their family members lining the sides of the bridge overhead.

The Sanctuary sailed back and forth between the MeKong Delta and the DMZ, the wounded were brought by helicopter to the ship for treatment. I'm not sure how many troops were in Vietnam at that time but they very quickly reached the 700 bed capacity and stayed full. Sue wrote regularly, mostly about the people she was serving with on the ship, the pranks they played on each other, the fun they found. At least those were the parts of the letters that I heard. Like I said I was only a little kid.

Still, I knew that things were very scary in VietNam. It was on the news every night and as my father was virulently anit-war, he never shielded me from the realities of the body counts and body bags that appeared nightly. I didn't understand then why we were there, and I don't really understand now. In retrospect it seems that so many lives were lost and irreperably damaged and there doesn't seem to be a good reason for that. What was the benefit? What was the reward? My friend, the fabulous Ms. A, whom I've mentioned before, never knew her dad because he was killed in Vietnam when she was a very small baby.

When Sue finished her tour in Vietnam she returned to California and was stationed in Oakland at the Navy hospital, first stop for those who were so badly broken that they couldn't be fixed and sent back to fight upon returning stateside, before going back home to the cities and towns they came from - without the arms, legs and sanity they left with. My aunt and the others that served with her, who were returning to the U.S. were flown into a small little airport in San Bernardino where they were instructed to change into civilian clothes immediately and not to tell anyone that they were just returning from Vietnam. They were still spat upon and the one taxi driver who picked them up tried to charge them $150 to drive them 10 miles.

A lot of Vietnam veterans, including my aunt do not believe in this war. They don't believe that the war in Vietnam was a good thing. They were ordered to serve and they did without question. But they are questioning this situation in Iraq now. I look at what is happening in Iraq and I ask all the same questions. Why are we there? People keep saying that we are fighting "the war on terror" - but the only people who were being terrorized by the dictator Saddam Hussein were the Iraqis and the Kuwaitis. It's never been explained to me in a way that makes any sense, how what happened on 9/11 is related to the war in Iraq? Ossama Bin Laden and Al Queda are a separate issue and a credible connection between Saddam Hussein and the attack on the World Trade Center or the USS Cole, or any of the other Al Queda attacks has ever been made. So why are Americans dying in Iraq?

For me to ask this question does not mean that I do not support the troops because I deeply appreciate those people who put their lives on the line in service to their country. I appreciate the loss that the families who have loved ones in the service all over the world feel when a birthday, a graduation, an anniversary pass and their loved one is sleeping in the dirt in the foreign country and dodging sniper fire.

Today is the day to remember all those who have died and all those who continue to make a great sacrifice in service to this country. But it is also a day to remember the government that sent Americans into the Vietnam conflict and to remember that the government was wrong about that. Today is a good day to remember that just because the President says something is true, doesn't necessarily mean it's true. If it looks like bullshit and it sounds like bullshit and it smells like bullshit - it's most likely bullshit.

And that Texan's got a pretty big shovel.

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