COLUMBIA — I think I first became aware of the dogs of war watching the television news coverage of the war in Vietnam. Ask anyone who was born during or before the middle of last century, and you will get a better understanding of the world that the television brought into our homes for the first time.
By the time I needed to sign up for the draft, the war and anti-war efforts were in full swing and Walter Cronkite’s special report of the 1968 Tet Offensive was burned deep into my mind. The entire broadcast can be found on YouTube. I guarantee that you will be moved.
Although I was not very political then, I did question why the United States was still involved. Even my father, a conservative and an Army Air Corps hero, did not understand why President Richard Nixon ordered more troops to Southeast Asia.
I did not join the service after high school or college. My draft number was too high, and by the time I graduated from St. Louis University, the war was all but over. However, I had friends who were drafted or volunteered — in one case both. When my friend Pete received his letter, he decided to join the Navy instead of becoming a foot soldier.
I remember when I heard that a neighbor died during the North Vietnamese's Tet Offensive. I went to school with his younger brother. At 16 I was not really concerned with what was happening outside my small cloistered world, but his death changed that.
In my six decades, I have had many friends who served in the armed forces of the United States, Israel, Great Britain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. I know one gentleman who sat in a silo in central Russia as another sat in a silo in Wyoming at the height of the Cold War.
My own patriotic duty was spent at home, working with a U.S. representative, training volunteers for a presidential candidate’s campaign and writing here. I never felt anger towards those who took to arms for an American cause or as a sense of patriotic duty. Today, I tell students that military service is a great move to either transition into something greater or as a career. It just was not in my cards.
If you listen to my dad talk about his time as a fighter pilot in World War II, you will hear him talk about those who died but never about the deaths themselves. When he talks about receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross on a mission in Germany, it is just a medal. Even today, he dislikes hearing that someone is ill or has died, especially if the death is the relative of a friend and is somehow connected to active military service.
I am writing this on Monday, Memorial Day, and wonder if anyone really remembers why this is a holiday, rather than another day to be commercialized.
In 1868 Gen. John Logan ordered that flowers be placed on the graves of Union soldiers at cemeteries around the country on May 30. It took until the end of the World War I — the war to end all wars — for Northern and Southern states to acknowledge this day of honor. The selection of the last Monday of May was done by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971.
Now we have airshows and parades, and flags will be placed on the graves of soldiers long passed. But this is not really honoring those who answered the cry of “havoc! and let slip the dogs of war” ("Julius Caesar," Act 3, scene 1). Between aerobatics and catching candy on the parade route, we needed to take a few moments to “… highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth” (Hay copy, Library of Congress).
David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.