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By BEN OLSON/for The Herald  —  If you live long enough, some of your memories will seem absurd to those young adults in Gen-Z. When I was a boy, there were a handful of old-timers who wandered the streets of our small town who had a vacant look and were disconnected from the world around them. The explanation was that they were shell-shocked WWI veterans, who had fought in the “war to end all wars.” They were quiet, and if they talked, it was usually to themselves. Sitting quietly on a park bench or nursing one tap beer all afternoon in the front window of one of the local taverns, they seemed like ghosts in the flesh.

Although my father was too young to see action in WWII, many of my classmates had parents and relatives who fought against the Axis troops. I was able to hear the stories about wartime directly from those who participated. My father enlisted as a naval airman, flying jets off the deck of aircraft carriers, as well as helicopters. His service was just ending as the Korean Conflict was ramping up. 

A friend of mine had a father who spent several months in a trench in the cold Korean winter. He said that when they finally got off the front lines, everyone in his unit had to cut off the uniforms they were wearing, as the cloth had been “fused” to their skin.

Entering high school, I became aware that I would soon be an adult in a country that was engaged in a war in Southeast Asia. My parents, and those that they spent time with, were conservative. “If the people running our government think that it’s a good idea to be there, then we support that policy.” That was their take on the matter. 

People a bit older than me, who were being drafted and sent to Viet Nam saw things quite a bit differently. I was on the fence. Why would our government do anything but the right thing? Being pulled out of college, involuntarily, to fight a war halfway around the world in a country that was no threat to the U.S. seemed like a valid reason to protest against our government’s course of action. I watched some classmates enlist proactively in branches of the service that had the least chance of seeing enemy fire. 

My age group was the 4th and last group to be placed in a nationwide draft lottery, with birthdays picked at random to determine the draft order. People’s immediate and long term futures were decided with the randomness of whatever lotto ball came up next. 

As I recall, on lottery day there was a nation of 19 year olds engrossed in the numbers as they came up. It was a huge relief for me when I got a number that wouldn’t be reached unless WWIII erupted. I saw a number of classmates go to ‘Nam. Most came home, though some were never the same after their tour of duty.

The year after my draft number was pulled, the U.S. stopped drafting young males and began to disentangle itself from the conflict, seeking “peace with honor”, as President Nixon called it in a January 1973 speech. Since our involvement in Viet Nam, it was decided that an all volunteer army would be more effective than conscripting unwilling citizens. 

Since then, the U.S. has engaged in conflicts on 4 continents and in 27 different countries, some multiple times. The last time Congress exercised its power to declare an actual war was June 4, 1942. Since that time, over 114,000 Americans have lost their lives in conflicts on foreign soil and hundreds of thousands more wounded. Perhaps you may think that I’m anti-war and not supportive of our troops. Well I am anti-war, as I think we should all be. War should be the very last resort in settling conflicts. 

However, I’m proud of our servicemen and their commitment to this country. I believe that  many elected officials throughout the history of this country have been less than truthful about the reasons for committing U.S. troops to a conflict.

Going forward, I believe that all citizens should stop getting their only news from a source that validates what they already believe. There are many opinions out there, and they all should be considered. An informed public will serve as a check on the tendency of the military-industrial complex to encourage politicians to send boots on the ground and jets in the sky in conflicts that, ultimately, are somebody else’s fight.

Ben Olson, musician and Oakridge Resident, with his standup bass. Ben is a regular contributor, as well as the Entertainment Report’s columnist. Ben Olson photo

 

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