Sunday, September 07, 2008


Recently, I got together with three Vietnam vet buddies to tell war stories, talk politics and kind of “Be” to use a movie line from my favorite baseball picture, Bull Durham. Kevin Costner says to his love interest, “I don’t want to talk baseball, I just want to be.” I understand. With fellow vets, we often simply want to be.

I like to think of vets as a fraternity, especially Vietnam vets. Our usual line is that we fought a war in Vietnam and then we fought one at home. For at least ten years or so, we were virtually silent, reluctant to admit we were Vietnam vets as for some insane view, immediately after Vietnam, vets were identified with the ills of our involvement in Vietnam. For Iraqi vets, they don't have to face this insult as Americans who pay any attention don't want to make the same mistake again. A soldier we understand is just doing his job.

Being a vet doesn’t mean that we all think alike but there is the idea of the shared experience and trust me on this: there is nothing like combat that creates comraderie. Although the other night, we didn’t see eye to eye on politics or most related subjects, however, we did all agree on one subject; the military is in a mess and we fear for its future. It is an institution that we all loved dearly. And, although most Americans who care today talk about supporting the troops, it is somewhat hollow since so few serve. Most don’t even know anyone who is in the military.

During Vietnam, we had the military draft and the country was more connected to the war and to the soldiers. Helped along by the protest movement, most saw Vietnam as something we were all a part of, right or wrong. I, for one, think the protest movement got too much credit for ending the war, still, they were connected. Not so today. We have a Volunteer Army and most people simply see us paying them to fight for us and so it is "next case." A mercenary force? Close. I am a little reluctant to call it mercenary as mercenary denotes a lack of emotion or commitment, at least in my mind's eye. The Voluntary Force is anything but uncommitteed. From where I stand, they are a superb military, well trained and by in large, well equipped. But and a big BUT: unrepresentative of America--a downer in terms of our democracy.

At the very least, we ought to have some sort of National Service. This is truly something in which us old vets totally agree. It doesn’t have to be the military, it could be Teach America, Habitat for Humanity, any nonprofit or the person could choose their own service. This is no novel idea, it is on the drawing board by a few folks but where it has no attention is on the National Stage. And, I think that either of the presidential candidates could make alot of money figuratively speaking if they were to choose this path. As a country, we have not been asked to sacrifice at all for a war that is draining us. We believe it is going to catch up to us. And, for four old vet, we see it sooner than later and by not giving America’s youth an option to serve hurts them and America. Shame on us.