Participating in the Lumpkin County (Georgia) annual Memorial Day ceremony, conflicting feelings swirled inside me. As an American I mourned the sacrifice made in good faith by our fallen men and women. But as a human I simultaneously mourned the death and terror we Americans have inflicted on millions of innocent victims of war.
In my 70 years I have learned U.S. wars are conscious choices, starting with the 1890's Spanish-American war. Since then, Americans subconsciously recognize this by calling only World War II a "good" war. Politicians and wealthy titans of the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned us about choose war for their own benefit. They then package it to obtain citizen support and participation.
As a young U.S. naval lieutenant during the early Vietnam-era, my pending assignment in late 1965 was to take charge of a so-called Swift Boat in the Mekong delta. Fate, somewhere in the U.S. government, preempted that posting with a diplomatic one in 1966 that took me Paris. There I had a small role in a secret attempt to quickly end the war through negotiations. I saw duplicity on both sides.
That effort failed and many of my Navy and Marine colleagues were among the 58-plus thousand American sons and daughters killed, along with over 300,000 others wounded. During that period Vietnamese mothers and fathers lost over 2 million of their sons and daughters to the same flames and shrapnel from weapons of war. They do not include many thousands more America killed in Cambodia and Laos.
American deaths in that war were double the number of people who now live in Lumpkin County. But deaths among our alleged enemies numbered 80 for each present resident. With an inside view, I knew such horror was not truly necessary?
For 20 years of military and diplomatic service I observed and, sometimes, took part in covering up our real motives and denying our nation's role in instigating war. For a long time I rationalized it as "serving my country," but deep inside my moral compass continued to point in another direction. That conflict still weighs on me.
Standing among my fellow veterans — many wounded — and the families of our warriors who never came home, I felt a sense of pride in their faith and courage. But knowing the dark side of our political, economic, and military power, I could not help but feel guilty that many of their sacrifices had served an inglorious purpose.
Not enough of us — soon enough — paid enough attention to our susceptibility to "waving the bloody shirt" politics. As a result of my generation's choices, America has sent even more of its youth to fight unnecessary — and therefore immoral — wars. To truly honor our volunteer military, made up of men and women of honor, we citizens must seek a level of political and moral maturity that will prevent our nation, regardless of the party in power, from abusing its power to choose war.