As I write this, the first episode of “The Pacific,” a 10-part miniseries about America’s battle against Japan in World War II is beginning on HBO. I won’t watch it because we don’t get HBO. I’m sort of sorry and sort of glad. War has already been too much on my mind.
My husband Dan is editing the memoirs of a sweet man on the other side of the country whose life was changed forever when he was sent to fight in the Pacific. Only now, after all these years–only at the age of 90–is he able to speak of what he saw and experienced as a fresh-off-the-farm nineteen-year-old.
A couple of years ago, I met a one-eyed woman in South Korea. Even though I only understood about half of what she said, I cried when she told me her heart-wrenching experiences during the Korean war. She kept saying, “Remember? Remember?” I didn’t. But she certainly did. War is like that.
I’m working on a book manuscript about one man’s experiences in Viet Nam. I want to tell him the things I usually tell writers: Don’t make it so personal. Relate to the readers’ experience. Pause in your writing to take a breath. I want to tell him, Lighten it up a bit. But how can I speak? He was there; I wasn’t.
I was born too late to personally know anything about World War II. I remember a little bit about Korea, and way too much about Viet Nam. At the end of my first semester at college, on the day grades came out, I went to the school post office to check my mail. Two hulking big-men-on-campus, both at school on basketball scholarships, stood together by the mailboxes, sobbing. They had just seen their grades. Their GPAs only slipped a bit, but it was too much. They knew the draft board would quickly pick them off. I wonder where those guys are today? I wonder if they ever talk of their war experiences? I wonder what they might say if I were to suggest they lighten up a bit on their memoirs?
I wonder what the men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan will have to tell us in years to come? Will it take them half a century to be able to speak of what they saw and experienced?
Will we ever learn anything?
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.