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They Served Proudly
My father was born in Canada, but was naturalized very soon after entering the United States. Though he was very new to the country and had no strong attachment to it, he was one of the fools who enlisted during the Vietnam War. He knew that the US was fighting a losing battle. He didn’t agree with why we were there. He didn’t belong to any political party. He was a man who lived for peace. Why did he enlist?
Depending on whom you ask and what day you ask them on, the reasons for his enlistment are vast. His mother believes it was out of pride for his new country. My mom says he was getting into mischief and needed discipline. One of my uncles insists that my father only wanted to enlist to copy him. One of my aunts says he did it to become a man. The priest at his funeral said that my father joined because it was the right and only thing to do. I know his dad served for Canada during a previous war. Knowing how much my father looked up to his dad, he may have joined out of respect for him. Being a new citizen, he may have joined to fit in with the rest of the American men. As discussing politics quickly becomes a fight in my family, I never got to ask my dad why he served before he died.
When it seemed that Bush was going to enter us into another war, I remember my dad praying that the draft wouldn’t come into effect again. As women are now allowed into the military, he knew that my brothers and I had the same chance of being drafted. Knowing how anti-war the three of us are, he knew that getting drafted was the only way Bush would get his teeth into us. He didn’t want our lives to be interrupted (or ended) by a war he knew we wouldn’t support. It was a blessing that he died before the war began.
Knowing the effect that Vietnam had on my dad, I can’t believe people willingly enlist. It seems that the soldiers who come back are worse off than their dead comrades. While the dead get to sleep peacefully, the survivors must deal with everything that is left behind. My dad had a fear of fireworks and loud noises once he came back. He had physical and mental problems that shaved years off of his life. Looking at the first pictures of him in his uniform, he looks like a proud, capable man. He is lean, strong and sharp. This man did not return after the war. Viewing the videos he took of his soldier friends, laughing in the water, waving and smoking cigarettes, its hard to believe that they didn’t come home. If I feel cheated, I can’t imagine what their kids feel like.
I had friend of a friend who would crack jokes about the war. Dan’s family was a military family. From the day he was born, he knew he would have to enlist. At eighteen, he did, but there was no war then. A few years later, there was. He did two tours. After the first tour, he still made jokes. He was “fighting his dad’s war.” He was just there to get his ribbons and medals. Didn’t he look handsome in his uniform? A couple of months later, he returned to duty. Soon after, I saw his name on the local news as being one of the “fallen heroes.” I was never close to Dan, but my heart has been broken for him since.
Being the person that I am, I could never imagine myself enlisting now even though I like Obama and most of his politics. However, I may have enlisted during one of the World Wars. Back then, it meant something to serve. People supported your decision and even openly encouraged it. There weren’t obvious peaceful methods to settle problems. Our minds were different back then. Without television and the internet, our enemies were largely faceless. You could do your job with a clear conscience because, without a picture or a voice, your mind could build this enemy up to giant proportions. You may not agree with the reasons behind the war, but your country needed you and the enemy was out there. Propaganda was different back then. You honestly believed that anyone could be the enemy. They could enter your community and hurt your family, no hints ever dropped. Our country is too aware for that kind of thinking now. We know that while there are people who still want to hurt America, they usually don’t masquerade as your local librarian. The threat is present, but the fear is manageable. Thanks to the media, war is no longer romanticized.
Were I, like Dan, a member of a military family, I could picture myself enlisting. I would’ve been raised to see the value in war. I would’ve waited impatiently for the happy day to arrive when I could proudly serve my country. I would’ve come to terms with possibly dying and not coming back the woman I entered as. Yet, I am not Dan or his little sister. I am John’s daughter and I know too much to be able to serve proudly.