Vietnam and Iraq

In 1966, I thought my life was over.  I had just graduated from college with a degree in a subject I wasn’t interested in — Chemistry, and had determined that I wasn’t going to go to graduate school, at least not yet.  I was caught in what seemed to me an unresolvable moral dilemma; on the one hand, I thought the Vietnam War was obscene and unsupportable; on the other hand,  I thought I had a moral obligation to serve my country—a feeling that was surprisingly strong.  Unsurprisingly, considering how immature I was, I drifted.   I went through two draft interviews in Texas, and was able to hold things off by asserting my right to be inducted  in my home state of California.   At the same time, I was going through what an earlier age would have described as a nervous breakdown, and I had not one, but two letters from physicians attesting to the problem.  When I went through the draft process in Texas, no one bothered to look at the letters; when I got to the Oakland induction center in 1966, miraculously, someone read them.

My Vietnam experience stayed with me, and when it became clear that the Bush administration was going to do something even more stupid, I wrote several poems; this is one of them.

A Thought on the Eve of Destruction – 2003

I remember my induction;
I remember sitting there
Listening to the oath of duty,
Listening to the oath of death.

Through the glass, I saw the others,
Through the glass, I heard them pledge,
And I thought: “I’m not a killer.”
And I thought: “I will be killed.”

And as the door began to open,
I felt a hand upon my back,
It was the doctor, come to tell me:
“You’re not fit to go to war.”

Now we find that we are heading
Into another deep morass,
Blindly stumbling, deaf to reason,
Led like lemmings to the fight.

And as the door to this new battle
Begins to open, ever wide
Where is the doctor come to tell us
We’re not fit to go to war?

Peace March

In 1969, I was working for System Development Corporation in Santa Monica, in the job I wound up in after I was almost sent to Vietnam.   (I’ll write about that and about the complicated mix on anti-war revulsion and sense of duty that I felt at the time in conjunction with a forthcoming poem).  1969 was the year I first felt free to publicly express my feelings about the war.  For the previous two years, I had worked at Air Force facilities in Massachusetts and Florida.  In an odd way, I had fulfilled the tour of duty that I had almost spent in Vietnam, and I began to involve myself politically in the anti-war movement that had begun to sweep the country the previous year.  I took to wearing a black arm band at work, and when I heard about the nationwide October 15th Peace March, I joined the one that marched from Santa Monica to UCLA.   At the end of the march, we were treated to a rather banal speech by Candace Bergen, in her pre-Murphy-Brown days.   It wasn’t exactly inspiring, but what the hell; she was beautiful.

Song for the October 15th Peace March

Verse 1:

I went out marching on that day.
Ten thousand people led the way,
Then more joined in, and more, and then
We marched as ten times ten times ten.
And we’ll keep on marching, if it takes us years;
Til someone listens, someone hears.

Chorus 1:

Well, when you get old and gray,
You can’t hold a candle – for peace.
When you get old and gray,
You can’t hold a candle – for love.
But if everyone else lit one little candle,
We’d have one hell of a light.

Verse 2:

My mother called me up next day,
And I really hadn’t much to say,
So I told my mother what I’d done,
And she said: “Is that what you believe in, son?”
“Sure,” I said, “Has been for years.”
She always listens, but never hears.

Chorus 2:

Well, as we all marched along,
We all held a candle – for peace.
Well. as we all marched along,
We all held a candle – for love.
And when all of us lit just one little candle,
We had a hell of a light.



Another Anti-War Poem

Some time ago, I blogged about the cinquain  and what I called the semicinquain.   This little verse, from 2003, is written in yet another variation of the cinquain, which might be called the hypercinquain, or cinquain on steroids.   The syllabic scheme is 2/2/4/6/8/2  as opposed to the cinquain, which is 2/4/6/8/2.   Dilemma is explained here.



Why, that’s
No choice
At All.  To choose
A war or Sadaam. Why,
Iraqis must be grateful for
Their choice.

Is at the bar,
On trial before the World.
Outside, a lynch mob menaces
Its folk.

They say:
We must destroy
Iraq in order that
A new Iraq be built, or so
They say.

I say:
No war
But for defense.
No blood without a cause.
Why can’t the cowboys hear us say:
No war!

A Rock

The following poem was my reaction to the Kent State Shootings in 1970.  It is yet another sonnet ( I seem to have written a lot of them).  If I were writing the poem today, I would make the secret urge line more ambiguous, and I would make the link to Kent State more explicit.  ( The shooters at Kent State were National Guardsmen, not police.)  But on reflection, I think the little verse does a good job of focusing on the right issue.

                     A Rock

A rock – no harmless little thing to throw.
My sister’s hit me once – I have a scar.
Today, an urged-by-anger youth I know
Threw his own rock, not very far.
Not far, but hard and straight, and at a man
In blue, a man who had his job to do.
His job – to put down riots if he can,
Despite his secret urge to kill a few.

And now, the youth lies bloody-red on stone,
And all the satisfaction he had known
When he threw the rock, must ebb away.
Perhaps the man in blue did well, you say.
I say, the picture says what must be said:
One man in blue, the other: glistening red.

An anti-war sonnet

(from 2004-2005)

Old men, not young, should go to war.
The young are fearless, older men
have learned acceptance.  Even when
They’re faced with death, it cannot mar
The record of the life they’ve led.
They’ll fight with calm, the almost dead.
Young men will often go too far,
Old men, not young, should go to war.

But, soft, that argument is wrong.
Old men enjoy a summer’s day
As much as any callow youth.
Young men, though fearless, brave, and strong,
Need time for laughter and for play.
We all should stay at home, in truth.