W.F. Bellais II
Trying to remember when I did not live in a time of war causes me to search through the history of my times, but I cannot recall any day when war did not loom in my life. When I write this it is not my intention to suggest that my life has been shattered by war; that is, I have not suffered bombings of my home or deprivations of livelihood I have lived in perilous times.
A year before my birth Adolph Hitler assumed power in Germany and the Nazi state and war machine was established. By the time my first year of school began my parents took me to see newsreels of the London Blitz. Firmly established in the creases of my brain are pictures of burning buildings collapsing, injured people being led through the fiery holocaust of collapsing buildings. By the time my second school year started I recall being in motion
picture theaters and photos of General Douglas McArthur flashed on the screen and all the children cheered our war hero. The Germans and Japanese were portrayed to us as evil and sinister non-humans.
I recall black-out curtains, black-out toys, and men who walked about my town shouting at homes where minuscule streaks of light sneaked out. I recall the fear of German submarines threatening my town and coming up the bay to sink ships right off the docks where we lived (I cannot recall if this ever happened). I have a memory of my father leaving us for the Pacific and not returning for several years. This meant my mother was the responsible agent of the family that included a brother and two sisters.
We cheered the war’s end and we truly believed that war was over forever. But, what did children know. The atom bomb dropped on Japan was only an abstraction. America owned that abstraction and we would be forever safe. Soldiers, sailors, marines came home. We still had people in the enemy country, but they were there for only a brief occupation. The evil Germans and super-evil Japanese (the ones with the buck teeth and thick lens glasses) would be punished, but we would now live the good life. That good life included wearing war surplus army helmets and “playing” war like our daddies did. The good life included having new appliances and new cars and best of all frozen orange juice.
Within five years another war had started. How could another war start when we thought the “last” war to ever happen ended? I did not know. War did not matter to me. War, always somewhere far away, did not touch me. In fact, I thought of it as a grand adventure and an opportunity to demonstrate to the world the nobility of America. Those people so far away would love us for bringing our way of life to them and keeping them safe from the evil Communists. Those evil people, portrayed as sinister criminals wanting only to put me in a cooperative farm, needed to be taught a lesson. Because we did it so well and in only four years before, we will teach that lesson in only a few months. After that we will go back to frozen orange juice, television, and mausoleums called houses with front lawns. Nobody sat on the front porch or the front stoop anymore. Keeping tabs on our neighbors faded away as we became numbed by Howdy Doody and the Show of Shows.
The North Korean Communists charged across the thirty-eighth parallel of that peninsula as I completed my first year of high school. Early the following year I could wait no longer to be a part of the war culture. I went to the local Army National Guard and enlisted. My father found out within a few days and gathered me up all the army gear that had been issued to me and dumped us both in front of the enlisting sergeant’s desk. “No,” my father shouted, “this boy is barely sixteen and if you enlist him, it will be a fraudulent and criminal offense.” My father, at this time retired, had been a career sailor who enlisted at the close of World War I. He had seen war up close and he knew that enlisting meant I could be in combat in Korea before I finished high school. Since he had not finished grammar school, he was to have none of that. Nevertheless, when I did finish high school I enlisted in the Marine Corps and ended up in Korea anyway. Now in my late teens inured to war serving in Korea and looking forward to obtaining a college education throught the GI Bill. War is wonderful.
On discharge my life’s path takes me to college. The Korean conflict is at a stalemate, permanent cease fire positions are developed, and as far as I am concerned it is all in my past. But no, I cannot stay away from war; it is in my blood. Had not I been born into the midst of perpetual conflict? Every man at the university enrolled in military training. I did not need to; I had my military training behind me. Nevertheless, I enrolled to earn a commission.
For the next eighteen to nineteen years we had “cold” war, the Dominican Republic Invasion, and the war in Việt Nam. I am probably forgetting a war here or there. Besides open conflict and threats of nuclear annihilation covert wars went on along the border between West and EastGermany and the Soviet Union’s satellites, and covert wars no one talked about like in Laos and probably Cambodia.
Several years ago a certificate arrived from the U.S. Department of Defense thanking me for my service during the Cold War Era. To be thanked is always a good thing. Now at last, I thought, the Cold War is over. Russia and America will find a way to be friendly, we can disband armies, close down missile silos, get rid of nuclear war heads, and finally live in peace. Eventually, I believed, there will be no need for the Veterans Administration; there will be only monuments to veterans.
As you know by now that pipe dream went out the window, or whatever other opening there is, when Arab Islamic extremist flew crowded passenger jets into the World Trade Center towers and Pentagon on September, 11, 2011. “It’s war!” the powers that be shouted. We all agreed, “Go after those SOBs who did this.” The need we have for an enemy materialized right before us and we could be ourselves again; virile and pure. But, what do we do? We attack the wrong the country. Thousands upon thousands of people die and our resources are drained. Not only do we have a war in the wrong place but we still have not gotten the SOBs who did that terrible thing to us.
A decade later we begin to believe that maybe we can bring all this to an end and put all our efforts into rebuilding our own country. But the need for endless war has not been satiated and we go on and on sacrificing our youth like the heathens of the Old Testament and draining our resources. We begin, as a result, to live in a self imposed poverty.
We have learned our lesson. No more wars. We have done enough. This is a new century. We do not need to be the world’s saviors. Enough is enough. Then, all of a sudden, we find a new war to fight. The powers that be are thrilled they will have more money shoveled out to them from the Defense Department. It is more of everything to do with war; more for the people who own the machines of war or make them and more reason to keep a large military force in place. After all, those kids who cannot find a job out of high school or college can always depend on a few years in Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya.
I suppose now that there will never be a day without war somewhere. But war can be a good thing. Remember, that is how we got frozen orange juice.