The night the war began I got my guns out and tinkered; loading magazines, cleaning them and preparing for what? My wife asked me, as she always does, if I was expecting an attack here the woods in Georgia. I'd done the same thing on 9/11, the Rodney King riots and the First Gulf War.
She looked at me sadly and said, "I don't suppose you could stop yourself even if you wanted to." No, probably not.
The old soldier routine gets less glamorous with time. Talk to the combat veterans you know; the older ones. They begin to find out what I've found out; that after a while, that .45 under your pillow starts to look less like an old friend and more like a bad memory.
I had the honor of fighting for the Rhodesians against a brutal communist enemy. It fit every definition of the so-called "just war." Isolated and loathed by the so-called "civilized world," we went down in lonely defeat after a long desperate struggle. I was angry about that for a long time.
After a while the anger fades and is replaced by melancholy.
I killed men in that war and I don't regret it. But I think about it literally every day. Sometimes I'd rather use that time for something else. It's not guilt, not some silly stress syndrome or the other. It's simply that when you've killed men you can never forget it.
Maybe that's why I hate this so much.
Like my pals in the Army and Marine Corps, I determined that I was born to be one of those hard men who do the dirty deeds that keep others from harm. I wanted to be counted among the number of those who had fought for what they thought was right. I got my wish.
Now my wish is that we'd find some other way of doing business.
The outbursts of faux patriotism and shouts of "kick ass" make me wonder if the whole country has gone nuts. The Rhodesians were among the best fighters the world has seen but they were dead serious and under no illusions about how cool it was to kill people and risk your life and limb. Americans are acting today like this is no more than a Hollywood movie. I find it very annoying and I suspect I'm not the only one.
If you want to support the troops, do as I did. Adopt a couple companies or batteries or air force squadrons; whatever, and have your church pray for them. One of the worst horrors of war is the danger of men dying unsaved. Good men. Your prayers can help.
I suppose I should be angry tonight. Once again my government has betrayed the principals of the founders and attacked a foreign country. I can't bear to discuss the politics of it just now though — all that needs to be said, pro or con, probably has been said already. It's all over but the killing.
What I'm thinking about tonight, as pals of mine go into combat, is that dreadful Combined Ops Communiqué we listened to every night at nine, in Rhodesia. Seemed like you could always pick it up, wherever you were. A very proper British sounding fellow would say, "Combined Ops has issued a communiqué. We regret to report the death in action of…." Fill in the blank. Somebody's friend, or brother or son. Others were reported as wounded, which sounds so clean and sterile when you write it down but is so dreadful when you see it happen.
There was that chilling form we carried in the glove box of our vehicles — the "Mine Incident Report." If you lived, you filled it out.
The whole country went into mourning after the big chopper went down at Mapai. Eighteen guys were killed — just blotted out. They couldn't get the bodies out so they dropped a napalm bomb on the crash site to give them at least some sort of a burial. Captain Smallwood, a charming man and something of an expert in demolitions was among the dead. He'd taught me how to send a tree thirty feet in the air. It seemed impossible that he could be gone, just like that.
Twice I heard the news that I'd lost a close friend. Taffy Trodyn and Martin Day — you couldn't ask for better pals. I guess I was a fool to pal around with the engineers. They're always getting wacked. I can't explain how terrible that was, but some Americans, and a lot of Iraqis, will be finding out.
It doesn't matter now whether you are in favor of this war, or against it. Here it is. I was truly hoping that we'd lucked out and they killed Sadaam that first night — maybe that would make it easy and get it over with soon. But the devil protects his own, and how he loves war. Small wonder that the Bible refers to it as a curse on those countries involved in it.
This stuff should really, really matter, before we unleash it. Good cause, bad cause, for God's sake, can't we be more circumspect about unleashing this horror? The dirty little secret is that war is easy to turn on and sometimes very hard to turn off. Is this a mystery? Don't our leaders know this? Don't theirs?
I'd planned to write a stinging riposte to that twerp Jonah Goldberg, the bloodthirsty polemicist who preaches war but who never looked at another man over the sights of a gun; I suppose I'll get to it, but I really don't feel very political right now.
I just feel desperately sad.