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A Letter to my friend Johnny
By Bryan Gold
Sunday, November 02, 2003
Do we need to tear our house apart once again?
I had dinner last night with an old friend. We celebrated her eighty-eighth birthday but I must confess that the planned festivities were somewhat muted and somber.
Last month, her husband had died suddenly. It was a sad and tragic ending to a marriage that had spanned decades and spawned a cadre of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But now, by the will of God, it has ended and my dear friend, Millie, is alone. She is alone with her thoughts, with her pains, with her memories and with the oppressing vacuum that now defines her life.
Before I left her house, she showed me a number of letters that she had written to her husband over the past few weeks. She believes that if she writes these letters, she has the power to connect and communicate with the man who will always be part of her inner soul. She believes that her husband can read these letters and that he will know what thoughts and feelings flow through her broken heart. She can no longer greet him each new day with a kiss good morning, but, in her own way, she can still reach out to touch him as if he were laying there next to her.
So I sit here today and I wonder whether or not the power of the written word can find its way to someone who is of another world. Maybe there is some spiritual or transcendental super highway of communication that unites the living with the dead. So, being the hopeful believer that I am, being the quixotic adventurer that I have become, I open my heart so a friend can hear the words and feel the pain that today echoes through my soul.
It seems like only yesterday that you died your last death deep in the jungles of Vietnam. Oh, my dear friend, you have died so many times protecting the flag that you love so much, I often wonder if there will ever come a day when we can stop marching our children off to war.
Yours is a history of sacrifice. You died fighting the British at Bunker Hill and then again you died as you fought your brother on the fields just east of Gettysburg. You died in the thick forests of the Verdun and less than three decades later, you died on a fog-enshrouded beach in Normandy. And before we as a nation could recover from our wounds, you were asked again to serve your country and again you died on some unnamed hill just south of the 38th parallel in Korea. And then again, less then two decades later, we fought another war and on another unnamed hill five kilometers south of the Demilitarized Zone, the conflict in Viet Nam claimed your soul once again.
Yet never once did you hesitate, never once did you vacillate, never once did you ignore the call when your country was in need and never once did you fail to march off to war. Never once did you betray the very essence of your soul.
Over the centuries, we have shared many a drink filled with conversation and debate. It started over several mugs of ale at Boar’s Tavern in old Charleston as we toasted the fight to win our freedom from the British. And how many nights did we spend downing Tequila in that small dive embe dded in an alley in Hollywood as we questioned our souls over the merits of the fight in South East Asia. And do you remember that day in May of 1970 when we spent an afternoon sitting on a grass knoll at Kent State University? We drank bottles of cheap wine mixed with the residue of gun powder and tear gas and vomited our anger and disgust as we watched them remove the bodies of Alison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder. You sat there, you uniform stained with your revulsion and screamed at them. “How could you,” you yelled over and over again. You turned to me, tears filled your eyes and you just shook you head in disbelief. “This is America?” you asked. I nodded my head. “Can’t be,” was all that you said as you faded back into my memory.
You always understood that patriotism is not defined by the act of war but by the love of country. You were always the first to defend the man who spoke from his soul; regardless whether you agreed with him or not. You were always the first to condemn the politicians and pundits who labeled those who oppose war as “communists” or “traitors?” “Why did we have to kill them?” you asked me. “Why do we have to condemn them? Why has the political polemic become a war zone? Don’t they understand? Don’t they know what we are really fighting for?” And my friend, I could never once offer an explanation.
So today I write to you. I write to tell you that once again we are at war. Once again you will be asked to sacrifice your life in defense of our country.
And don’t ask me for my opinion. Don’t meet me at Starbucks and dig deep into my consciousness as you always do. Because, the truth is, I just don’t know. Two weeks ago, I didn’t know what to think and today, I still don’t know what to think.
I can hear you laughing. I can hear you screaming at me because you have long known that ambivalence and uncertainty were not words that could be used to describe my political dissertations. I have long been labeled as a “ liberal, opinionated, vocal and outspoken defender of mankind.” Yes, such has always been my nature yet this war, this war has me totally, totally confused.
I have never fully understood the reason for our military intervention. I know that the traditional policy-defense line starts with a man named Saddam Hussein. He is a bad, bad man; the quintessential portrait of an evil tyrant who serves no useful purpose to the humanity of nations. He is ruthless, barbaric, and a sociopath who kills woman and children in the name of internal politics. He is made of the same fabric that defines the Hitlers and Stalins of the world. His malevolence is disgusting but does this alone give us the right to invade a sovereign nation to remove him from power?
Many say he is a direct and real threat to our country. They say he is on the verge of producing nuclear weapons and that he has warehouses filled to the rafters with weapons of mass destruction. Yet for months, United Nation inspectors could not verify either the nuclear, the biological nor the chemical threat articulated by the President and his men. So where is the truth? That is my problem. Where and what is the truth?
We have forever changed the landscape of international diplomacy. We have validated the doctrine of pre-emptive warfare. We have validated the mind-set that will allow nations to invade their neighbors based upon real or perceived threats to their national security.
So that is what I thought two weeks ago. But today, it does not matter. The time to debate policy is over. A decision has been made and a policy implemented. Men and woman are on the battlefield. You, too, again find yourself on the battlefield of honor. So now my energies are focused on praying for the well being of those that have joined you to defend and honor us with their sacrifices. So my friend, like so many of us who never wanted to send you in the first place, I stand with you. I pray for your well being. I pray for your safety and I pray for your safe return.
Not all Americans are as enlightened as you were. Sadly, very few understand that one can be opposed to the policy of a specific war yet can and will passionately support the men and women who must fight the battles of that war. Distinction between the soldier and the policy is what you and I have longed believed in. We have long believed that this is what the American democracy is all about. This is what we fight and die for.
So my friend, Johnny, make room at your table for those who will follow you and join you at the table reserved for the noble, for the honorable and for those who understand the truth of what we are fighting for. Make room for those that wear the uniform of the soldier and make room for those that pray for them as well. Make room for those whose shoulders bear the weight of their decisions to send our children to war and those who bear the weight of voicing their conscience and tears over the children who will never come home. I know you will, my friend and all I can do is pray that you may one day enjoy the peace that you deserve.
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|Reviewed by Alex Drinkwater, Jr.
|As anyone who knows me and has read my writings can attest to, I am a conservative and a supporter of the current intervention in Iraq. I supported the war in Vietnam - I did more than that actually, I served there. I must say your sentiments are heartfelt and I applaud your support of our fighting men even if you do not wholly support their cause. Well written and well done.