Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Conversation with Bob

There's this old man who lives in the RV park where I work, his name is Bob and he's ancient. He was in the Navy in WWII as a corpsman, and when you get him talking he tells stories about treating burns at Pearl Harbor or searching houses in Okinawa. I asked him about the war in Iraq, and he said it reminded him of Vietnam- not in the actual fighting of it or whether it was right or wrong, but in the willingness of politicians to withdraw troops without taking into consideration the fate of the last guy out. He doesn't really care if we stay or go, he says, he just doesn't want to leave the troops there hanging- because if it's bad now, how much worse would it be, when half our soldiers are gone and despair is in every breath and you're the soldier who has to stay behind and clean up on our way out.

I said, I don't think much of why we're in Iraq, and I don't think much of how the war's been fought, but I don't think we should leave, cause we rolled in and destroyed every good thing that country had going for it, which was little enough, and if we leave now they're doomed. All political arguments aside, we owe them, the little people, the mothers and kids and grandparents, to be the best that we can for them now. And Bob says, well, true, but it's not like we're going to be able to do anything they don't want us to do with their country; and they're so set on hating each other, nothing we do matters. There will be no solution until they choose to cooperate instead of hate each other.

The whole conversation started when Bob came in to let me know that he'd be gone over the first, so we should just charge his rent to his card- which we do anyway, every month, but he's an old man. So I asked him where he was going, and he says, well, my youngest son is being deployed again and we're going to see him off. He's going to be in the Gulf somewhere, and for the first time he's going to be stationed on a cruiser instead of a carrier, which is a smaller ship and a little more mobile. I made some stupid comment about how at least he's in the Navy, so he's in less danger than if he were on the ground. And Bob says, less danger, yes, but there's nothing quite like sailing along and then out of nowhere these dinghys come at you from both sides, like so- and he makes a meeting motion with his hands- and you don't know if they're going to try to sell you things, or if, you know, they're full of explosives and crazy people who don't care if they die. It's no different from Vietnam, really, you never know if the people who smile at you are friendly or if the next time you see them it'll be behind a rifle, shooting at you.

And I said, before we invaded Iraq, I was in college up in Washington, and I was taking a social sciences class on war, and I learned all these things Vietnam taught the military. All these lessons about guerilla warfare and overwhelming force and how to subdue populations without making them hate you and never sending in soldiers without the proper support. We invaded Iraq on the basis of these techniques, like we did in the first Gulf War, and even the TV news stations caught on and started calling it Shock and Awe, because the force we had was so overwhelming even we were impressed. But it turns out, we didn't learn anything from Vietnam. Not one single thing. After the TV hype was over, after our president declared victory, we did the same damn thing. We knew better, but we still went in undergeared, with the minimum number of people instead of the maximum number, we still killed civilians indiscriminately in our pursuit of our real opponents, our troops weren't trained in guerilla tactics.

And Bob says, people never learn.

No comments: