How I missed the war


I get a lot more done when Peggy is away because her presence is a distraction. During this absence, I’ve been roofing our new deck during the day and making crackers and soups at night. When I’m working in the kitchen, I watch films one after the other. Tonight, I watched two war documentaries. The first was The Corporal’s Diary, which was about an American soldier who died in Iraq, and the second was Heroes of Iwo Jima. In a few minutes, I’ll go to bed and continue my nightly reading of a newly-released book entitled Survivor: Auschwitz, the Death March, and My Fight for Freedom, which is surely the last first-person account of a Nazi death camp that the world will ever see.

When I was younger, I sometimes experienced regret that I had never gone to war because I saw it as a rite of passage like no other, and because it enables men to bond closely with other men. Yet, I went to great lengths to avoid the only war I had a chance at. I’m not sure whether I did this because I thought that only suckers voluntarily went to Vietnam, or because I had no stomach for any war. I suspect the former because, unlike World War II, which made at least a little sense to me, and during which those who didn’t fight were viewed with suspicion, I never felt the least inner desire or societal pressure to go to Vietnam, although I felt a lot of pressure from the draft board, which was forever eliminating my latest exemption in what seemed like a cat and mouse game with me being the mouse. When it seemed as if the cat finally had me cornered, my doctor wrote to the draft board saying that I had passed several kidney stones, so I was reclassified from 1A (kiss your ass goodbye) to 4F (we wouldn’t draft a worthless fucker like you no matter what) for a year, and by the time that year ended, the war was winding down. I was surprised to learn that I had suffered from kidney stones, but I wasn’t about to argue.

Tonight, as I cried my way through Heroes of Iwo Jima, I glanced over at Brewsky and was startled to discover that he was watching me with an expression of consternation unlike any I had ever seen in him, and I knew it was because he didn’t understand my tears. I very much wanted to tell him what was going on for me, but how does one describe feelings about war to a cat? Not very well, I shouldn’t think. When the war films were over, I watched another documentary, The Cruise, which was about a NYC tour bus guide. This guy had depth, honesty, creativity, sensitivity, eloquence, and a unique world-view, which is to say that he was everything I would like to be when I’m around people but am not. Of course, it’s a lot harder to be all those things given that I mostly avoid people. Like this morning, I got to feeling lonely, what with Peggy being gone, so, it being Sunday, I thought about either visiting the new Unitarian Church or calling someone about getting together, but I decided against either because they seemed like too much work. That decision being out of the way, my friend Cliff called to ask if he could come over, but I didn't answer the phone. About an hour later, I called him back, and we took a walk. It was good, but there’s such a wide gap between myself and others that I sometimes think about seeing people in the same way I think about taking medicine. I know it’s good for me, but it’s not altogether pleasant, although it can sometimes be very pleasant indeed, which is another parallel between people and drugs.

16 comments:

Stephen Hayes said...

My older brother avoided going to Vietnam by signing up with ROTC. He ended up in the Air Force and was shipped off to Turkey. When my time came they weren't taking any draft numbers higher than one hundred and my number was #232. So far this is the only lottery I feel I won.

All Consuming said...

People-wise, as you know I get you. On some days I'm very like that, on others I'm ok about it. I'm happy at home, and don't need to see other people much at all. Though I do keep in contact regular-sih. The web has made a huge difference to me in this way mind.
As to the war, I'm so glad you didn't go, who knows who would have come back? Not the Snow we have now I'll wager, and although you may question if that's a good thing I don't question it at all. There's a series of documentaries I watched when I was younger, on the insistence of Pa, and which I have re-watched twice. Thw whole lot of them. It's called 'The World at War' and is absolutely stunning. I'll not be watching it again, I can only cry so much through watching something of my own volition, but again, I get your tears. I honestly think it should be shown in shcools, late junior to early senior schools. I'm sure it would change the face of the future some if that was the case. The book you're reading, it sounds like something I'd find interesting, but heartbreaking too. And although I try not to shy away from facing the truth in this world, I do feel I have done that particular period in history in detail, with much emotion felt. Now is not the time for me to revisit that place, but I'm sure I'll be able to in the future at some point and shall not the title down on my 'to read' list on my computer.
Nice crackers.
I'm up to my eyes in soup. x

Joe Pereira said...

Just as well you didn't go to Vietnam Snow - it seems to have been such a waste of time and lives - Incidentally, my cat T-Bone once saw me crying after I received the news of my brother's death and acted totally out of character by climbing my chest and placing her nose against mine, paws around my neck. Brewski knows more than he lets on

Strayer said...

I was so happy my older brother failed his physical, with hypoglycemia. He is not a fighter. My younger brother was eager beaver to go, but the war was winding down by then, and his draft number very high. I was so happy because other young men, boys really, were not making it home and I thought even then it was a useless waste of life war. My parents were ultra gung ho conservatives (war happy), but one night I heard them whispering, as they often did, and I listened in as they discussed my older brother and how they might get him to Canada, if need be. My father hated liberals and full of hate for demonstrators against the war, but privately he did not support such a useless war, nor did he want his sons dying in a useless war.

Strayer said...

Your post brings back the same feelings I had as a teenager, lying in bed, sick with fear, for my brothers. I knew my brothers' hearts. I knew my younger brother wanted to be a hero and would die being a hero over there in the jungles. I knew my older brother was far too kind and peaceful natured to be a military killer, and so I would try to figure out a way I could go in his place.

I read a book about a raid to save prisoners held after the Bataan death march. The book was factual, reconstructed from letters and first hand survivor accounts. The Japanese had killed prisoners in another camp on another island, in terrible fashion and they feared the same fate for those prisoners. The book details the suffering on the death march, the diseases and starvation inside the camp. It's a look at the horrors of war and made me cry like a baby. There was an Oregon woman hero talked about in the book, living in the Philippines when the war broke out, who began to smuggle supplies to the prisoners, including medicine, and also spied for the Americans, while running a nightclub for the Japanese after the invasion. Her nickname was High Pockets, because she often tucked things into her bra to smuggle. She was from Portland. She was eventually captured and tortured.

Snowbrush said...

The first draft lottery was held on December 1, 1969, and the highest number called was 195. My number was 108, so I would have been called if not for the kidney stone deferment. Prior to the lottery, I first got a deferment simply by going to college. As the military's need for fresh meat increased, simply going to college wasn't enough, so I named education as my major. After awhile, that deferment was also withdrawn, so I decided to say that I was a conscientious objector, only the draft board required that I belong to a pacifistic church that taught that God forbade killing. Simply not wanting to kill people because I thought it was wrong, or because I thought the reason I was being given for killing them was stupid or immoral, wasn't enough. Then I decided to say that I was studying for the ministry, which wasn't too far afield since I was regularly taking courses in Bible and theology. However, I needed the sponsorship of a church to quality for a ministerial deferment, and I was no longer going to church. I might have been able to get such a sponsorship had I gone back to church, but I didn't seek it. By that time, I was resigned to go and get shot at, although I feel a bit stupid about that now in view of how important it was to NOT GO TO VIETNAM REGARDLESS. Of course, that was quite a few stupid wars ago by now, yet people just keep on keeping on volunteering to be sent halfway around the world and get blown to hell, presumably for freedom, although I've never been clear on just how that is supposed to work given that the people whose freedom they're presumably dying for hate their guts and want them to hell out of their country. At my age, I'm safe from any conceivable draft short of WWIII, but even if this weren't true, I would move to Timbuktu, say I buggered earthworms, or do pretty much anything else that would get me a deferment. 60,000 Americans died in Vietnam, and god knows how many were killed in America's wars since then, but what good were any of those deaths. All that money, grief, dying, life-destroying injuries, and for what? I can't imagine all those horribly injured people waking up everyday for the rest of their lives and wondering what the hell it counted for.


PhilipH said...

I now have few friends. Time has a way of taking them away, by illness and death. But I still have a good few friends whom I've never met but feel I 'know' - and you, Snowy, are one.

Wars have always been madness. Man is the only animal that goes to war because we are led by madmen in politics and religion. Wars will never cease until Man is no more.

I was twixt 5 and 6 years old when I watched the first bombs fall on Croydon airport in mid-1940. That was when I was "in" the war. Later, on my 18th birthday I enlisted in the RAF and was posted to Germany during the 'cold war' where our one-time allies, the Ruskies, were now our biggest threat. Had this cold war turned hot then I doubt if I, or millions of others, would be here now.

I didn't realise how much I liked being in the RAF until I left it, in 1956. I'm so glad I went thru all that training and bullshit and look back on it with huge affection. We often only realise how much we love something, or somebody, until they disappear.

I look back to when I enjoyed the 'friendship' of "Nolly Posh Dreaming" and how hugely sad I was when her blog ended with her "going home"; her death. Yes, we do NOT have to have physical contact with friends and we can be devastated when they disappear.

Best wishes Snowy. I'm sure your moggy feels your sadness strongly, as do many of your cyber pals.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm kind of the same about social things. I sometimes want to have a little social interaction, but it's not easy to get myself energized for it.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

I too avoid people...it's often just tedious to interact. And it is hard to find the energy to want to interact. Mostly, I just feel beat up by the world and I just want to come home and close my doors!

kj said...

I was a counselor in a us army education center in Germany during Vietnam. I was on an artillery base and many of the guys were coming or going to that war and many had done terrible things.

I find I like to spend increasing time alone. But too much is not good for me. I keep trying to help the world be more like I wish it were, and I like that I keep trying.

I'm glad you feel well enough to roof and cook, snow.

Love
lj

Myrna R. said...

There are many types of war. Yours has perhaps been more internal and you had no need to see real weapons. I can relate to you a bit about not wanting to be around people. I like people, but mostly prefer to be alone and going out to socialize feels like a chore. Luckily, my husband cannot exist without socialization and since i accompany him, I find some balance.

angela said...

After living through both world wars and losing her son because of the second my grandparents moved to Australia for a better life and to protect her remaking sons. When my uncle got drafted for Vietnam everyone worried for my grandmother. But fortunately by the time he finished basic training the Aussies were called home and he didn't have to go.

Putz said...

my uncle was bombed by his own amerixcan airplanes while he was a prisoner of war in the bottom of a japanese war ship,,, one of 2000<><>how many people know 2000 people died at the sme time by friendly hands????also i have a neighbor recently dead whose wife is writing a book abvout her husband in the bataan death march and later as a prisioner of war in unspeakable details so guess how i feel about war><><just guess

Putz said...

p.s also i was at fort ord california when as a company clerk i typed orders for my whole commpany to go to the fron'st of the war where it turned out to tolerate 75% causuaties and i typed orders for me to go back to my unit in tooele utah

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

"Snowbrush" has been included in the A Sunday Drive for this week. Be assured that I hope this helps to point even more new visitors in your direction.

http://asthecrackerheadcrumbles.blogspot.com/2013/10/a-sunday-drive.html

Linda said...

My brother avoided the Vietnam draft when he was called up by telling them that if they gave him a gun and forced him to kill people who never hurt him, he would kill the @#$%$ who molested him as a child. They immediately deemed him crazy (4F?) and he had to suffer that shame along with revealing his molestation for the rest of his life.

My favorite book for a long time was something about From Bataan to Corregidor. I reread it and read all books that I could get my hands on that were about the Pacific Theater.

I am glad you did not go. I wonder about the talent that was lost in Vietnam. I hate that almost 60,000 of my generation were killed in such a useless war.

I like your stories.