In 1968 I was a skinny, pimple-faced High School Senior. My biggest challenges were refraining from squeezing my zits and soiling my undies in my sleep. Worrying about economics, paying bills, who was in charge of the world, or any of those things took a back seat to fantasizing about my Business teacher, Miss Hopkins, and her Tabu perfume, and selling shoes at Bakers in Iverson Mall. But the whole country was going crazy; I just didn’t think about it.
It has been argued that 1968 was the year that changed everything. Lyndon Johnson grew frustrated with the war in Vietnam and decided not to seek reelection. He had become President upon the death of John Kennedy and then won the election by beating a lame opponent, Barry Goldwater. But now he wanted out. The country was being torn apart by opposition to a war that was none of our business. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. After the death of MLK, the cities erupted in riots. Whole city blocks were burned to the ground. Richard Nixon was elected to his first term as President, only to resign the office amid scandal five years later. O. J. Simpson won the Heisman Trophy.
It’s easy to say today that everyone was just out of their minds back then, but unless you were there you can’t know. I was there, but oblivious, so how can anyone not subjected to it really understand? There are news accounts and historical records, but the atmosphere is not in the records. It was surreal. I remember my mother waking me by yelling upstairs to my attic apartment that Bobby Kennedy had been killed. All that went through my mind was that one day five years before, where the only thing on television was the funeral of John Kennedy. Was I going to miss Mayberry R.F.D.? Seriously though, it was shocking. How could I understand what was happening? My graduation was in just a couple of days, and that was heavy on my mind.
The Tet Offensive had just taken place in January. We watched the television reports, while my parents worried I would be drafted. I worried, too. Everyone was expected to wave a flag and declare love for America, but the young people could not figure out why we were in Southeast Asia. We were being thrown to the dogs for the sake of stopping Communist aggression. Or, so the story went. No one wanted to call it a Civil War.
But that’s all in the past. We made a mistake and lost a lot of lives as a result. I just didn’t want to be one of them. John Prine wrote a great song, “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You into Heaven Anymore.” It was written in 1971, but I always loved the picture it painted. Honestly, I don’t really care what your feeling might be for that period of time, but while I was there, that’s how I felt. When the media was hammering Bill Clinton and George W. Bush for avoiding the draft, I sat back and held my tongue, because I understood. No one really wanted to go.
It’s easy to go to war when you can do it by proxy. Your life is safe if someone else is doing the fighting. Soldiers lose an arm, a leg, an eye, a life, a family, but it’s all OK, if it is them and not us. Politicians wave their arms high and scream “bloody murder,” but it is not them who are suffering. They don’t walk around with a limp, or an eye patch, or scooting around in a wheelchair. Yeah, they send their kids, but they send their kids. Not them. They’re safe. You can label me Liberal or whatever, but the fact of the matter is, war kills. It isn’t good for anyone. Everyone suffers.
As a society, we have to find a way to avoid war. If we are attacked, we have to react. Afghanistan made sense because that was the haven of Al-Qaeda, and they struck first. Iraq was vengeance, getting even for the past.
If fifty years of history taught us anything, I would be surprised. We never seem to learn. When it comes to economic gains over death, we accept death as a consequence. As long as it’s not our death. Throw a soldier into the heat, and he’ll take it. But we’re running out of soldiers. In 1968 we had the draft, which meant the soldier had no choice. He had to go. Today, there is no draft, and with what is occurring at the present time, fewer men and women are opting to join. They don’t want to die any more than the politicians who have chosen their fate.
With that being said (ha ha), we need to change the future.
Bake My Fish