Why Did All Those People Die?

W. D. Ehrhart, The Madness of It All: Essays on War, Literature, and American Life [2002]

This is a collection of the Vietnam veteran and poet’s prose pieces up till 9.11.  Some are quite short (1.5 pages), others go on and on (he has a particularly keen interest in Korean war poetry—by US vets).  Two essays were about women whose works on Vietnam I appreciate deeply—Gloria Emerson and  Lady Borton.

Here are a few passages that get to the perennial heart of the matter…

In short, we demonize the enemy so that we can go on living with ourselves. It happens in every war.  The Germans become Huns. The Russians become Reds. The Chinese become chinks. The Koreans, and in turn the Vietnamese, become gooks. And now the Iraqis are barbarians. How can people capable of disconnecting Kuwaiti babies from their respirators and firing missiles into Tel Aviv be like us? How can they be human? Obviously, they can’t be.  

This is very convenient for those in whose interest it is not to raise such questions as: Why did all those people die? Who offered them  up for slaughter? What was accomplished for the price of so much blood?  How was it permitted to go on for so long? Where are the names of  the three million dead of Indochina? 

[On MIA]:  I mean no disrespect to them or to their missing comrades, but it’s time and long since time for the rest of us to come to terms with reality: those American servicemen missing in action in Southeast Asia are dead. God rest their souls, and the souls of those who mourn for them.  

Unfortunately, time and again, we the people demonstrate that we do indeed believe our own rhetoric. People old enough to have read The Pentagon Papers and All the President’s Men willingly send their sons, and now their daughters too, off to places like Lebanon and Grenada and Panama and Kuwait and Somalia without even asking, let alone demanding of those who are doing the sending, “Is this really necessary?”

–Sunday 6 November 2016

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