Heaven, Hell, or Hoboken

Beyond its evil aspects and its tragic results, I know nothing about war. I’ve never spotted an enemy platoon, fought my way to freedom, or stepped over a dead body. I’m like everyone else who’s been lucky enough to sit along the sidelines. Just knowing of war is enough.

I was born during the Korean War. My father fought in WWII and his father fought in WWI. My war should have been Vietnam. I was spared. It remains the only lottery that I’ve ever won—number 265. Anyone my age was anxiously sorting through their options. I considered leaving the country. My father was originally Canadian so I hoped they might let me in. The UK would have worked, too. Anywhere folks spoke English and their government minded its own business would have been just fine. It was a time when going to college had a payoff beyond the higher education. It could save your life. 2S draft status was coveted. I lost mine when I became a father at 19.

How the U.S. can sustain armed forces comprised of volunteers is beyond me. I’ve never had the urge to kill, nor be killed. Whatever educational or retirement benefits may come along with the uniform, I can get them on my own. Killing as a career has never crossed my mind. I can’t help but wonder what goes through the minds of those who do consider it. To me, patriotism is a misdirected trust and an excuse to be belligerent. Each war starts within. Patriotism can be a pathway for revenge or salvation or both. However, most of us understand that nothing good ever comes from killing.

Earlier this week I stood on a pier in Hoboken, surveying the skyline of New York along with the evening parade of joggers, young mothers pushing strollers, and aspiring Wall Street financiers headed home. I read the placard commemorating the ships and soldiers launched to sea from that site. Hoboken hospitality provided what might be a soldier’s last supper and last chance to stumble from one of its saloons to a back alley social club. Row after row of three-story brownstones could just as well serve as headstones for the men and women who never returned. Death and destruction are such strange things to commemorate.