This past week has been for me one of forced introspection. First I was visited and interviewed in my home by a graduate student from UCLA whom I had met quite by chance at a service station in Mountain Home, Idaho while traveling. He was studying as a Master’s Degree candidate the lifetime activity level and outlook of “special populations” (meaning in my case “seasoned citizens”.) Needless to say, he is still scratching his head realizing he has probably glommed onto a Doctoral subject as well!
Five days later I sat for a three-hour interview before the television cameras of Korea’s Global radio/television network, Arrirang with a pair of English language TV producers from Seoul and NYC – six years after delivering myself of unintended but impassioned and widely-quoted remarks when visiting that country with a U.S. Veterans’ group. July 27, 2015 will mark the 62nd anniversary of the armistice which brought an end to the Korean War, and the two national flags which fly together over my home this week serve to visually define something of the dichotomy of identities which run squarely through my own life.
In each of these two interviews I found my examination of my very-professional interviewers as revealing as they could have theirs’ of me. Since they were born into and have lived so far in the midst of a time bearing little resemblance to mine it could not be otherwise. And yet so profound is the contrast that it has left me starkly and newly impressed; actually shaken.
The world I was born into was spawned by world-wide depression and “book-ended” by World Wars and the ongoing conflicts produced by “uncompleted wars” and by politicians who think they can win peace (or buy elections!) by signing vapid and meaningless agreements on paper. Most of my aging fellow-veterans hate war more than anybody, but believe its purpose is to win something of value not otherwise attainable. We tend to believe – along with History’s greatest military leaders – that there is no greater sin a nation can commit than to send its youth into a battle from which it then prevents or withholds their victory – for whatever reason! It is the ultimate betrayal. It even happened in Korea; it REALLY happened in Viet Nam, and now we see it being repeated in spades in the so-called War Against Terror and the related Gulf Conflicts, where once again our best and bravest have been squandered and de-limbed in battles made meaningless by political decisions that are both ambiguous and premature, and which actually fly in the face of real accomplishments so easy to deny the victors when convenient.
In the world of the l940s, one could walk through the streets of the most ethnically diverse and culturally divided of America’s cities in perfect safety, despite the fact that a large proportion of previous police forces were away fighting a real war. Pete Carney, the Irish street cop I saw every day carried only a billy club and was known mostly for the two Cull family kids he dove through a plate glass window to save from a house fire. Our police forces and firefighters were uniformly respected and even revered by our citizens, and any elected official who dared to display anything less would have been thrown from office by an enraged public! My family lived only three miles from the country’s largest city, but never locked our door. (I think the key was lost back around 1905). In the wonderful world of today, more citizens have been shot or stabbed to death in Chicago than in Iraq and Afghanistan during the same period of time. And the very police we once thought to be our heroes are attacked and undermined by politicians we keep electing. And though I live in one of the most peaceable corners of America, I seldom leave home unarmed.
My childhood friends were not gifted with such marvels of minute-to-minute communication as today’s 1st graders take for granted, but they quickly learned how to enjoy daily one-on-one conversations in pretty sound English grammar (and even Morse code after dark in whose hours we played all the time!) We called each other by proud ethnic nicknames and laughed about it, but quickly went to the defense of any friend who was REALLY put to injury. Boy! Were we conflicted! And still, we followed and discussed the war news from every theatre every day, and pretty much understood what was going on and what our Dads, brothers, uncles, cousins and friends were facing. We did what we could do; and we loved our flag, our country, its traditions and institutions; and each other.
Following this week’s two intensely probing interviews in which I was asked to lay bare what I believe, WHY I do, and why I choose to live a life which many seem to think belies my age and the time in which I now live, I found myself filled with a deep and wearying sadness, and feeling more and more LONELY in a strange new world. So much so that my wife Shirley who thought things had gone quite well was surprised to have to ask why I was crying? I answered with my own question:
“What has happened to my country? Where has the America I used to know gone?”