Say it, say it, say it:
War, good God y’all.
What is it good for?
In the course of the timeless story told tonight our Poet recites a litany of wars through the ages.
I am a child of the sixties. Born in 1958, the decade entirely shaped my sense of the world, of myself, and of war. The images seared in my mind as a kid are horrific. The My Lai Massacre. The naked little girl fleeing the napalm cloud boiling out of her village. A man putting a pistol to another man’s temple and pulling the trigger, the face contorted by the impact of the bullet. A self-immolating monk.
Norman Whitfield’s “War,” as sung by Edwin Starr, was my song, but the Vietnam War had already entered my home, in the person of the brother of friends of my parents. He had been sent home, severely traumatized—what would today be diagnosed as PTSD—and needed a place to convalesce. He wound up at our place, a 100-acre patch of largely undeveloped woods we were renting in New Hampshire while we looked for a farm of our own. I’d heard so many stories between the adults, mostly half-whispered thinking we kids were out of earshot, about his condition and his experiences, that I was terrified of his arrival. When the knock on the door came, I was the one to open it. He was back-lit. A huge silhouette blocking out what, in my memory, is a bright sunny day. I averted my eyes from his face, all in shadow, to the floor. He had on military boots. When I looked at them I promptly vomited. Right on them. Welcome home, warrior.
I was eight years old. I’m not certain now whether he actually ever told me any stories of Vietnam. What I know is that he forever fixed, in me, a visceral reaction to war by his mere presence on this farm. I have a vivid memory of the morning my brother and I nervously escorted him to a field some distance from the house that had been overrun with woodchucks, making it unworkable as a garden. He brought his rifle and a pack of unfiltered Camels, planning to take back the field using the skills he’d been gifted by Uncle Sam. He was being helpful, earning his keep. At the first shot my little brother’s evident anxiety overcame him and I raced back to the house with him, a sobbing six-year-old puddle of nerves with a hysterical nose bleed. At our backs, the shots continued to ring out as we ran, screaming for our mother. My childhood was laced with the images and stories of war. But I’m hardly alone in that.
None of us is left out of The Poet’s war story, of war stories that get told and retold. As you hear the litany of wars wearily ticked off by our storyteller, where does the list start to conjure images from your own time on this planet?
Where do you enter the story?