“I am tired and sick of War. Its Glory is all moonshine. It is only those who
have never fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded
who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is Hell!”
— William T. Sherman
Are there things worth dying for? Are there things worth killing for? I think there are, but I’m not comfortable (oh, weak word! but I don’t think there is one in English for what I mean) with anyone making the decision for another about what those things are. Especially, I am not comfortable with leaders making that decision for their people, and most especially, not for the ones who will have to do the killing and the dying.
Are there things worth dying for? Are there things worth killing for? Those two are so intertwined. Chicken and egg? But I think it starts with killing. War always starts with someone deciding that something is worth killing for. Even suicide bombers do it primarily to kill, not to die; they accept–perhaps welcome–the dying only because they believe the killing will guarantee them paradise, or a hero’s reputation.
Yet no one ever calls someone a hero for saying, “I will kill for my country”; “I will kill for the cause.” Heroes say, “I will die for my country”; I will die for my cause.” But war isn’t about dying, it’s about killing.
Maybe if we were more honest about that, there would be a bit less of it. Maybe.
Many of my family have served in the military. The farthest back that I know of is John Main, my great-grandfather, who was a Union soldier. At least three great-uncles served in WWI. Two of my uncles died in WWII: Gerald Kennedy, shot down over Europe, and Cecil Kennedy, shot down over the Pacific. My father, Charles, between them in age, was 4F because of his childhood rheumatic fever; he tried to enlist in every branch, including the Coast Guard. A younger brother, Laurence, served in the military and came home safely. One of my mother’s brothers, Donald Main, also served.
My brother, Dennis Kennedy, 1948-96, was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He came home physically, but left a bit of his soul, I think. It wasn’t Vietnam alone that led him to the alcoholism that killed him, but it was one factor. Others died in Vietnam: Tommy Orr, year behind me in school; our fathers were friends. One of the Murphy boys, who were a bit older than me. My cousin’s husband, Jim Sampers. A classmate or two. And so many of the young men in my class were drafted during those years, some going to Vietnam.
I believe, as much as I believe anything, that war is almost never the right course–not absolutely never, but almost never. But with humans being what they are and the world what it is, I do think the U.S. needs a military force. So I thank those who do that job, and I support their being taken care of both during and after their service, including their families’ being supported well while they serve. I’d like to see each person in the U.S. who does not serve in the military be required to pay, once during their lives, a special tax surcharge (based on income, most certainly including all sources of income) that would be used exclusively to fund veterans’ benefits.
And if we ever again have a draft, I want it to be absolutely universal, but not entirely military, with people assigned to whatever tasks the country needs done that they are capable of doing. I want no deferments or exemptions on any basis other than a disability so great that the person cannot perform any useful function. There is always work to be done; maybe if we paid more attention to the work that isn’t war, there would be less war. Maybe.