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Corner of My Mind: Beyond war — a distant hope

“In times of peace, sons bury their fathers. In times of war, fathers bury their sons.” — ancient Greek adage.

Members of the The Santa Fe, New Mexico chapter of Veterans for Peace have fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and Iraq. Most volunteered. All are against future wars.

“I wouldn’t call this war in Iraq a war,” said Eduardo Krasilovsky, a long-time member of the Veterans group. “It is an invasion of another country, a colonization, and a clear example of how the powerful benefit from wars and we the people pay, with our money and with our blood.”

Deep within the chambers of the id, in that reptilian core of our complex brains, we sometimes conjure with fear and anger, and like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, we unlock the Gates and throw them open. And as the horsemen burst out, we wave flags and sing hymns to battle, to hide the abominations that crouch around those sharp hooves. But our uneasy hearts tell us that war cannot be recalled like a faulty mechanism.

And when the young men and women begin to return, some crippled in mind or body, and when the flag-draped coffins are carried to their resting places, we turn to each other and say “They were all heroes.”

And so they are.

But we the people have a rapacious thirst for oil, and it keeps us desperate for a steady flow of imports.

Joan Duffy, another Vetearans member, recalled her service as a nurse in Vietnam and her change of heart, when I interviewed her at her home in Santa Fe. A pleasant, middle-aged woman, Joan was haunted by the wounded she couldn’t help. “It affected my future relationships,” she said. “I was there perhaps two months when I did a total turn-around in my attitude and said `What the hell are we doing here?’” She recalled one incident in particular. “A young soldier came in holding his intestines in his hands. `I think you’d better look at this’,” he told me. I was so busy.” She shook her head. “That soldier didn’t make it.” I asked her to consider the many that she did help.

Joan passed away a few years ago, and I can only hope that she is finally at peace.

“In Flanders Fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row...”

Norm Bedow, a soft-spoken older Veterans member who fought in World II, is adamant about what he considers the unnecessary nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. ”At the time I approved of every bit of the bombing,” Bedow said, “since we could lose anywhere from 500,000 to one million American soldiers in an invasion of the Japanese mainland. But how many of you know,” he added, “that seventy-five atomic scientists who worked on the bomb sent a letter to Truman, `Don’t drop it on populated Japan. Drop it on some isolated atoll, just to demonstrate the power of the bom bom’.”

“We are the Dead. Short days ago, we lived, felt dawn, saw sunsets glow, Loved and were loved, now we lie in Flanders fields ... “ 

Actor Charlton Heston totally approved of the bombings. Heston came to the Los Alamos National Lab in later years, to add his technical expertise to a secret film being produced by the Lab. A pilot during World war II, Heston said he was slated to go in on a land invasion of Japan. “I don’t think I would have returned,” he told reporters in a Lab interview.

Tim Origer is a personable middle-aged man who came back from Vietnam wounded in mind and body. He has since recovered and is living a full life, including a deep commitment to Veterans For Peace. He credits his wife and children with bringing him back to the man he was before Vietnam.”I don’t see that war is a solution to anything,” said Origer. “War is the last option, and it is an option of the ignorant.”    

One can see some of the wars our country fought by the various ages of the Veterans’ members. Young Daniel Craig, who returned from the Gulf War, feels disgust at why we engaged in that conflict. “I went in anyway, because I had taken an oath as an officer and a soldier, but I did not agree with why we went into the Gulf.” Like many of the veterans, Craig still proudly wears his military cap.  Since the Gulf War, he has done a lot of thinking about his experiences there. “One of the first questions my best friend asked me when I got back from the Gulf was `Did you kill anybody?’ It came across to me as a video game. Like it’s not real.”          

Ken Mayers resigned his commission as an officer during the Vietnam conflict. “In disgust at our foreign policy,” he said. Ken laughingly recalled the closest he ever came to being killed. “I was having a beer at the bar of the Officers Club, and a round came through the window and busted a bottle behind me.  And we don’t know whether it was an American or a Vietnamese!”

The men laughed, but behind their casual demeanor is a commitment to help returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan, and to make the public aware of just what hell war really is.

There are still empty chairs at the hall where The Veterans For Peace meet to honor the heroes of all wars, and to do their part to move our country beyond war.