Capturing War

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I grew up during the Vietnam era. This conflict in Southeast Asia officially began in 1959, and officially ended with the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. I was a four-year-old baby when Ike first sent advisers over, and a high school graduate when the boys came home under Nixon.

An opinion has grown among historians that the unpopularity of the Vietnam War came about because of particularly intense television coverage. Some claim that support for this “police action” shifted when the draft expanded to include middle class, college-bound boys. Mothers across the country grew alienated, and distressed by the relentless coverage flickering across all three networks; images of  Vietcong ambushes, exploding fire fights, and mounting body counts, soon drained any support women felt for the war.

I recall in particular doing dishes after dinner watching a little black and white Sony portable on the kitchen counter. It didn’t matter which network I switched to, the same footage blended into a mingled blur . . . jungle, fear, wounds, and an odometer-like graphic, tallying up the day’s body count.

The Vietnam War didn’t come to us through paintings, or photographs, or movie house newsreels. Instead the American public, including this growing girl from Spokane, viewed the unfolding drama as a grim reality program, years before that term was coined. And that little 10 inch window to the war told me, as young and unsophisticated as I was, that this involvement was awful. That war is an awful event.

CBS, in particular, ran special reports highlighting varying aspects of that endless nightmare. News cameras exposed the jarring horror of  surgical personnel–doctors and nurses splattered with blood–and set out with nervous reconnaissance patrols edging through deadly elephant grass, and huddled with desperate Marines battling at a stone wall in the ancient Vietnamese capitol of Hue. All of it awful.

So many years have flown by, and I find this little girl is now officially middle aged. Yet, as I type my graphic recollections from fifty years ago, I know that, at this very moment, young people in battle zones face the exact same hell as the lethal jungles of Vietnam. The human cost of war has not changed–not one bit. And though the American public isn’t quite as riled as 1970, nor as focused, the price of overseas conflicts remain the same for those beautiful young souls now in harms way.

In the spirit of comforting the disturbed, and disturbing the comfortable, I would like to finish this piece by reprinting a poem by WWI soldier and poet, Siegfried Sassoon. With words alone, Sassoon captured the true awful, using no film crew, or photographer, or painter.

Dreamers

By Siegfried Sassoon

Soldiers are citizens of death’s grey land,
Drawing no dividend from time’s to-morrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives.
I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,
And going to the office in the train.
Have a safe weekend, and accent the memory in Memorial Day.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the non-fiction memoir, River of January

Capturing War

th

I grew up during the Vietnam era. This conflict in Southeast Asia officially began in 1959, and officially ended with the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. I was a four-year-old baby when Ike first sent advisers over, and a high school graduate when the boys came home under Nixon.

An opinion has grown among historians that the unpopularity of the Vietnam War came about because of particularly intense television coverage. Some claim that support for this “police action” shifted when the draft expanded to include middle class, college-bound boys. Mothers across the country grew alienated, and distressed by the relentless coverage flickering across all three networks; images of  Vietcong ambushes, exploding fire fights, and mounting body counts, soon drained any support women felt for the war.

I recall in particular doing dishes after dinner watching a little black and white Sony portable on the kitchen counter. It didn’t matter which network I switched to, the same footage blended into a mingled blur . . . jungle, fear, wounds, and an odometer-like graphic, tallying up the day’s body count.

The Vietnam War didn’t come to us through paintings, or photographs, or movie house newsreels. Instead the American public, including this growing girl from Spokane, viewed the unfolding drama as a grim reality program, years before that term was coined. And that little 10 inch window to the war told me, as young and unsophisticated as I was, that this involvement was awful. That war is an awful event.

CBS, in particular, ran special reports highlighting varying aspects of that endless nightmare. News cameras exposed the jarring horror of  surgical personnel–doctors and nurses splattered with blood–and set out with nervous reconnaissance patrols edging through deadly elephant grass, and huddled with desperate Marines battling at a stone wall in the ancient Vietnamese capitol of Hue. All of it awful.

So many years have flown by, and I find this little girl is now officially middle aged. Yet, as I type my graphic recollections from fifty years ago, I know that, at this very moment, young people in battle zones face the exact same hell as the lethal jungles of Vietnam. The human cost of war has not changed–not one bit. And though the American public isn’t quite as riled as 1970, nor as focused, the price of overseas conflicts remain the same for those beautiful young souls now in harms way.

In the spirit of comforting the disturbed, and disturbing the comfortable, I would like to finish this piece by reprinting a poem by WWI soldier and poet, Siegfried Sassoon. With words alone, Sassoon captured the true awful, using no film crew, or photographer, or painter.

Dreamers

By Siegfried Sassoon

Soldiers are citizens of death’s grey land,
Drawing no dividend from time’s to-morrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives.
I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,
And going to the office in the train.
Have a safe weekend, and accent the memory in Memorial Day.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the non-fiction memoir, River of January

A Special News Report

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I won’t kid you, I was scared. We, my girlfriends and I, were watching ABC’s Saturday Night Movie in their basement when stiff slanted letters intruded on the flickering screen. A Special News Report. “We interrupt this broadcast to bring this breaking news,” explained Harry Reasoner in his musical voice.

“FBI agents have sealed the office of the Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox.”

I sat up from my prone position on the couch, trying to orient myself to the images on that black and white picture tube. The information didn’t make sense, Cox was the guy ferreting out the facts behind the Watergate scandal, and he should have been left alone to do his job. A sense of bewildered loss of gravity made me uneasy as I watched agents string crime tape across an office door, and around file cabinets.

I needed to go home; this movie could wait.

At the backdoor of my house, I could hear the television blaring. My parents were watching the reports, too. Good. Rounding the corner, there again appeared Harry Reasoner, sounding as confused as I felt. But my Dad knew right away something very shady was underway. He never liked Nixon, buying into that “Tricky Dicky” moniker coined back in the Fifties. So, he assumed the worst—and that was good enough for me.

The crisis deteriorated further. By the next morning, a Sunday, with all of America viewing, we found out Nixon ordered Archibald Cox fired, pronto. But the Attorney General wouldn’t do it, so Nixon fired him, instead. The second at the Justice Department wouldn’t carry out Nixon’s bidding either, opting to resign. The third in line, Robert Bork did fire Cox, and obeyed his President’s rather stunning orders.

I thought America was in the middle of a coup. Again, I was pretty scared.

The rest of this tragic tale is well documented, common knowledge. The public freaked, and the Nixon people freaked, and then the Nixon house of cards came a tumbling down. By August, 1974, less than a year after the “Saturday Night Massacre,” President Nixon resigned, the first chief executive to do so in our history.

The thing is, we all knew there was something dark about Richard Nixon. He looked like he was up to no good, and those who denied this quality were turning themselves inside out to deny it. Nixon always said the right things, “tough on crime,” “support our troops,” bleeding-heart Liberals,” pressing the correct conservative buttons. But he betrayed the trust of conservatives, and it took a man of quality, Gerald Ford, Nixon’s Vice President, to restore some kind of equilibrium to the GOP.

Today, Tuesday, January 10, 2017, some shady business is transpiring on Capitol Hill. Another hurried process to fast track Trump nominees for cabinet positions. We’ve got to ask ourselves, what’s the hurry? To whose benefit is the rush job.

And Trump isn’t about a Hundred Day Congress to aid the lives of Americans. Like Nixon, there is a darkness, and a craving for power that serves only one man. This plutocrat is all about buttressing his position, and ramming through his will as fast as possible. That should send up red flags across both houses of Congress and across the expanse of America.

I’m scared again. Watergate left us all reeling, and trust in government has never really returned. I don’t think any one person should have to endure two rancid presidencies in one lifetime.

The only solution is vigilance and persistence. Don’t listen to a word any of these characters utter. Instead watch what they do. Despots on their way up say what they must to get what they want. Watch what Trump and company actually do. Get your Senator on the phone, and press them with “what’s the rush?” We all want good government; government for all Americans.

If there appears to be an almighty hurry, history tells us it’s time to slow down. The Trump people are up to something.

We, the people and the press, need to insist on answers, and demand explanations for the big fat rush. Again, who gains from this fast tracking? And America doesn’t need another secret government.

Senate Switchboard (202) 224-3121, ask for your Senators office.