Monday, March 11, 2013

Learning from Our Mistakes

One night last week, as I was preparing dinner, I had to fight back tears as I listened to this song:

If you've never heard it and don't have time to listen, maybe you'll understand when you read the lyrics:

Travelin' Soldier

Two days past eighteen
He was waiting for the bus in his army green
Sat down in a booth in a cafe there
Gave his order to a girl with a bow in her hair
He's a little shy so she gives him a smile
And he said would you mind sittin' down for a while
And talking to me,
I'm feeling a little low
She said I'm off in an hour and I know where we can go

So they went down and they sat on the pier
He said I bet you got a boyfriend but I don't care
I got no one to send a letter to
Would you mind if I sent one back here to you

Chorus: I cried
Never gonna hold the hand of another guy
Too young for him they told her
Waitin' for the love of a travelin' soldier
Our love will never end
Waitin' for the soldier to come back again
Never more to be alone when the letter said
A soldier's coming home

So the letters came from an army camp
In California then Vietnam
And he told her of his heart
It might be love and all of the things he was so scared of
He said when it's getting kinda rough over here
I think of that day sittin' down at the pier
And I close my eyes and see your pretty smile
Don't worry but I won't be able to write for awhile


One Friday night at a football game
The Lord's Prayer said and the Anthem sang
A man said folks would you bow your heads
For a list of local Vietnam dead
Crying all alone under the stands
Was a piccolo player in the marching band
And one name read but nobody really cared
But a pretty little girl with a bow in her hair

So many thoughts raced through my mind as I listened to this heartbreaking song.  I remember Vietnam.  I had two uncles and a cousin serve there (and many years later, both uncles died from cancer due to exposure to Agent Orange).  I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't give the war much thought as I was fairly young, although I do remember expressing my very unpopular budding pacifist beliefs.  Many of those young Vietnam vets who made it back without physical wounds suffered other types of wounds.  Their lives were never "normal."  It all seems so senseless now.

My thoughts also turned to Iraq and how we went there under false pretenses.  How many 18 year old soldiers "came home" like the young man in the song?  How many innocent Iraqi civilians are now mourned by their families.  Of course, I also thought of our present predicament in Afghanistan.  And I wondered why, for those of us at home, we don't behave as if we're at war.  We just go shopping and talk about the latest celebrity buzz.

I also thought about how, back in 2003, Natalie Maines, the lead singer for the Dixie Chicks, made a comment  about President Bush in frustration over the impending war with Iraq.  As a result, the band was blackballed by country music fans and radio stations.  That demographic is typically very vocal about defending our first amendment which gives us the right to free speech.  However, those same fans didn't think Natalie Maines should have exercised that right.  This very talented band never recovered their former popularity.

As an historian, my mind is trained to look backwards as well as forwards, to compare past actions and results with current events.  Hindsight shows us how wrong both the Vietnam and the Iraq wars were and yet political leaders seem to be able to convince many that the current or the next one is justified.  We wonder why members of the younger generation often fail to learn from their mistakes.  The answer is simple:  look at the example set by their elders.

1 comment:

Deanna said...

I keep wondering why we don't see huge anti-war protests like we had in the 60s and early 70s.