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A Long Life and a Little Zen
By Tim Farley
Have you ever encountered someone angry at the US government over the war in Vietnam, and you felt the immediate desire to cool things? I have met people who don't understand why I'm not angry, given my disabled status, as someone hit with shrapnel, shot twice, and practically deaf in my right ear. I start by saying Vietnam and Korea were supposed to be part of a third option. That is, since August 1945, the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, war to any sane person is no longer acceptable. That's the first option, and the second is to do nothing. The third is to have a limited incursion to nip something in the bud or prevent the spread of communism. We never wanted to make Korea or Vietnam US territories, which left us entering the civil war in Vietnam seeking the same compromise we got in Korea.
Reflect on that for a minute, choosing to fight without a goal to win but to achieve a compromise. Perhaps the seeds of our defeat were sowed in March 1965.
Today, 50 years after the last GI left, it's common to encounter people who blame us for the loss and give us a hard look if we admit to enlisting. I tell people that 90% of those who served didn't have politics, being teenagers, and it had more to do with what neighborhood you were from or who your father was. I was emulating my father in 1966 since my brothers and I saw him as our hero for enlisting in the navy in 1942, lying about his age, turning 17 in the South Pacific.
To be against terror, torture, and war makes good sense today. I remember hitchhiking to DC for Operation Dewey Canyon III, sleeping on the lawn across the street from the Smithsonian. I agonized about betraying our friends in Vietnam before leaving without even a water bottle, just a wallet with a few bucks to sleep on the grass in DC for weeks. I thought it was more intellectual than anything else; with war being long over, I might never donate to VVAW if it wasn't for the libraries built.
I've been writing romantic suspense stories and self-published the first a few years ago. When people ask me how many books I sold, I exaggerate in the spirit of Trump, for the truth is I gave away more than I sold. Sour Women opens after a vet's body is found, and they think suicide. His best friend from Iraq and his old girlfriend, also a vet, who slipped away when he was medicating his pain with drugs, get together at the memorial service and decide to investigate. They do everything wrong, and I try to make it funny, but the truth still comes out.
Another manuscript I'm currently trying to publish the conventional way is All for Nothing, set in the years leading up to and including the American Civil War. Micah, the main character, thinks his life might be short as a guide on the Underground Railroad; he's off to New York City alone after his Quaker girlfriend's mother persuades her to wait until he's employed. He writes for a newspaper about real crimes taken from the archives, but when an editor refuses to pay him, he gets in trouble, and the judge tells him to join the Marines. Nex stop, Harper's Ferry, October 1859, and the girl he left behind has befriended John Brown's daughter, and she's headed for the same place. I want to write a story like Gone With the Wind or Cold Mountain but from a Yankee perspective, ensuring the reader sees the war was all about slavery and slavery was all about racism. I once heard there was a war in South America, Peru, and Chile fighting over bird poop, but when you think about more than 700,000 Americans dying so rich people can continue to own people, I guess we can't snicker or feel superior.
Meanwhile, you can forgive yourself if you didn't hear about the Department of Defense destroying the last chemical weapons in its arsenal. We had sarin stocked in missiles and recently destroyed over 30,000 tons to comply with the International Chemical Weapons Convention. We have yet to sign the No First Use of Nuclear Weapons, which nearly every other nation with the first bomb has signed, and we can make it an issue for 2024. The good news is no one has exploded an atomic bomb since the ninth of August, 1945, but the bad news is the power of firing a missile with an atomic warhead lies solely with the president. When half of the people don't vote, and half of those who do—vote as if they are thrusting their middle finger at the government, which is the only way a hustler like Trump could win. Maybe it's a good idea to keep pushing this idea of peace. Please don't consider it inevitable simply because danger and evil are. War, torture, and terror could go the way of slavery or something the ancients did because they didn't know any better. First, we must pay attention to what our government is doing and encourage people to believe peace is possible.
Tim Farley, a disabled ex-marine, retired mailman, and a writer under the pen name Tim Buktu.