Vietnam and Iraq

ed rosenthal
August 25, 2015

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?

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"for 'twere absurd to think that nature in the earth bred gold, perfect in the instant;
there must be remote matter." - Ben Jonson
"I don't know what the question is, but art is the answer." - Guy Conner

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