Just Another War Baby
I was born September 11th in 1942, during the conflict we call World War 2. I am a war baby. War baby is a term that defines the underlying theme of my life and for many of my generation. We all can recite similar stories, the single human activity that even the most remote cultures on the planet have experienced these modern days is war. And humans continue to have babies. War babies.
I was conceived and born in a time of war. My birth was a chance event hastened by the imperatives of life and death. My parents would never have met, my DNA would never have existed if not for the war. My father born thousands of miles away, met my mother while stationed at the base near her town. He, a Russian Jew, she a Scot in those days would not even have crossed paths if not for the war.
My father came home from the war in 1945 and was a stranger. And although I played dress up in his combat gear we never really repaired the damage of my separation from him at birth as he went off to war in Europe. When he returned in 1945 I was reluctant to give up my grandfather as a father figure and even at the end of his life my father and I had never really been close. My relationship with my father was likely a common experience for many of my generation, another casualty of war.
Although WW2 itself was over, my early formative years were still shaped by its looming after-presence. My nanny was a refugee from one of our own prison camps for Japanese-Canadian citizens. I remember a diminutive, sweet girl named Grace. She was homeless and just nineteen about 4 years or so after the war ended when she joined our household in the new government provided, “Veterans's subdivision.” She was hired as a caretaker for the two children in our family. It was her childhood that the war took. Grace was incarcerated before and as she entered puberty. Damaged goods. Funny, I remember her as another child, not an adult. I lost contact with her after she moved on, but my mother told me she ended her days in a mental institution. Just another war baby.
For about a decade after the war ended my parent's social life revolved almost exclusively around what I remember being called “The Club,” or sometimes, “The Mess” on the Army base above our town. “Mess” was short, I suppose for the mess hall, and their lives were really a mess too. The war left them with few emotional resources and they scrambled frantically to “enjoy” their lives. I sensed voraciousness; perhaps a determination to waste little time in proving that the millions that died had not died in vain. At the club, the liquor flowed freely and the camaraderie kept on in a well-practiced social groove. As I said, this went on for about ten years after the war ended, then my folks drifted on to other things.
Looking back I remember the monthly nuclear bomb practices at school where when the siren sounded we all crouched and hid under our desks or tables until the all clear was given. I understand now that this fearful homage to the nuclear cold war signaled for us that our WW2 victory was no longer useful. The dividends of war had now been paid. Our handlers needed to provide more motivation to keep us moving in the right direction.
The easy loans, the quick gratitude due the Veterans was now gone. More sacrifice was needed. In order to be safe, to be really secure we needed now to be prepared for nuclear war. The cold-war had begun. Now, a systematic campaign to warn people and prepare the west for the impending nuclear holocaust, with an almost certain doomsday scenario began and the constant building of the nuclear arsenal and our crazy stumble down the road to mutually assured destruction with The Soviet Union was in full swing.
Even in our own hemisphere, small regional conflicts and incidents over the years from the “Bay of Pigs” with Cuba, an angry brouhaha continuous until today, to the squabble over The Falklands, helping our pals the British, have served over the years to remind me of war and the importance we hold of imposing our will by force, “defending our freedom” in the world it was termed. Let's not forget our brave soldiers parachuting in to Panama to subdue the horrid dictator dope-dealing CIA shill Manuel Noriega. Perhaps defending our “freedom to do business” might be more apt since it seems in the end that most human conflicts from a personal to a international level seemed in the final analysis to be about distribution of resources. Apparently, Mankind has a hard time sharing. That is why we have so many war babies.
Even in the best of times, the war has been always with me. Even in the sunny days after Korea, war was the shadow in the corner, always there, maiming our young men and sending many of them home broken and not fixable. For example there is my recollection of an incident one early autumn day right after the Korean war at the Mormon mission across the street from my house.
I was on the Mormon mission property to visit my friend Wayne whose father ran the Mormon mission. As a result of Wayne's father's exalted position we were two young rascals with the run of the property. One day, Wayne and I rudely burst into one of the missionary's bedrooms, Brother Two. We were unexpectedly seeking his help to put up the ladder reaching the Mango tree full of fruit but just out of reach easily visible ripe and delicious fruit. Brother Two, a veteran of the Korean war, after returning from duty in Korea was now serving the Mormon church as a missionary. Brother Two had that clean cut look that some Mormons favor. Blue eyes, blond hair, square jaw. No fat. He was my hero.
Imagine our surprise when instead of giving us his easy smile and helping hand, Brother Two violently rolled from the bed wailing and screaming pulling the mattress on top of himself, screaming. After he stopped crying and composed himself, he was dripping with sweat and red faced and sobbing and we were scared and apologetic. I saw Brother Two in a different light from that time onward. He drew my attention dramatically to war and it's consequence in the human animal. Another war baby.
And then of course there was Vietnam and the draft. I came of age during the Vietnam conflict. By that time I was no longer a willing listener when the powers that controlled our destiny beat the war drums. But I figured that I had to do something or I might be leaving my bones rotting in the jungles of SE Asia.
So I joined the reserves three weeks before the draft notice arrived at my parent's house while I was still in basic training on my way to eventually becoming a Hospitalcorpsman stationed in a pediatrics unit at a West Coast Naval Hospital. In the outfit I joined most reserve units didn't make it to the front but stayed at home and did logistics and other duties. I knew I did not want to go to Vietnam and sacrifice my life in a dispute over resource dominance. If I had not been able to qualify for the reserves, I might have run away to Canada as did some of my friends. No way this war baby was going to go to war over profits. NO WAY.
It is unfortunate that my life has always been about war and not about peace. I wish I had not been a war baby. In the interest of not boring you further, I've edited out the more mundane examples of daily drum beating of the war machine and included a few of the more colorful examples of the human destruction left in the wake of the global war machine.
These depressing home movies I've described lead me to draw a conclusion based on my own personal experience, that we are manipulated from birth to death to respond to the drumbeat of war. Propaganda and carefully crafted memes are constantly exhorting us in the pursuit of our safety and security to give up our lives and the lives of our sons and daughters to die in foreign lands. What for? For the corporate profits of a few. We are manipulated from birth to death to give our soul to the company store.
It is time mankind evolved. I don't want my grandchildren and their children to be war babies.