Sunday, July 9, 2017

381: Mistakes

 Before I could turn around, he saw me. C.W. was in a shape he’d used before, the Vietnam War soldier. “Come,” he said. “Sit.”

It was a foggy morning at our farm. I had intended to take advantage of the cool air to enjoy my coffee out-of-doors and in peace. No such luck. I took a seat beside him under the oak trees that my father-in-law and I planted 25 years ago. A veteran himself, of World War Two, and a great man, my wife’s dad never got to sit under the shade of those trees. He knew he wouldn’t, but helped plant them anyway.

C.W. said nothing, just stared at the pasture, I sipped my coffee and looked at him. “What’s up?”

“Been talking to the spirits,” he said.

I said nothing.

“Did you know that they are making a new film about that miserable war?”

“Which one?”

He looked at me. “Don’t try to be funny this morning, he said. There’s way too much levity going on in your country right now. Comedy may be your downfall.” He turned back to the pasture. In the far distance, a lone deer ventured out of the lifting fog. “You’ve heard about the upcoming film by Ken Burns?”

“Yes.” Now he had me in a sober mood.

“Do you think they’ll get it right this time?”

“Surely,” I said. “I trust Ken Burns. How can you fail with sex, drugs, and rock and roll?”

He looked to see if I was being serious. “Yes. What could possibly go wrong?”

I nodded. He continued. “Do you think they’ll feature those ‘search and destroy missions’ that some of the spirits talk about? They still shudder when they do.”

“I’m sure they will.”

“What was their purpose?”

“Body counts,” I said. “Based on the idea of ‘attrition’ espoused by our General Westmoreland. We were supposed to kill enough enemy Vietnamese that they would quit and go home.”

“What could possibly go wrong?”

“The fact was, they were already home.”

“Like the Taliban is in Afghanistan?

“Look, the geese are flying in for the day.”

“One spirit told me that a dead water buffalo counted as five bodies, and that when they found a body blown to pieces they recorded each piece as being a body. There were even disputes over the ownership of a particular limb.”

“It was a sad time.”

“I take it that this was not the time your president refers to when he urges you to make America great again?”

“Hardly. Can we talk about something else?”

“They talk too, the spirits do, about the massive firepower extended. They talk about whole villages being artilleried out of existence because of one mortar round fired from near it.”

“I’m not sure ‘artilleried’ is a word.”

“One recalled his squad calling an air strike from a nearby aircraft carrier to take care of a lone sniper.”

“We had the firepower all right.”

“Yes,” he said. “What could possibly go wrong?”

“Nothing,” I said, “expect for the fact that we weren’t fighting the German army. There were jungles and caves into which the enemy could fade when things got hot.”

“The generals tended to get things wrong, didn’t they?”

“They sometimes do.”

“Do they suffer for it?”

“Not as a rule. Usually only when there is sex with a subordinate involved.”

“One spirit told me about that awful day in My Lai.”

“Let’s not talk about that.”

“The spirits say that one unit massacred maybe 500 villagers.”

“It wasn’t pretty.”

“America wasn’t great that day?”

“Not that day.”

“One spirit said he saw some comrades throw a man into a well and toss a hand grenade in on top of hm.”
The war produced new concepts in
saving villages from the enemy. - C.W.
“Look at those bluebirds,” I said. “My wife does love them so.”

“Another saw five men rape a girl and then blow her head off. Do you think they’ll include that in the documentary?”

“I’m going in,” I said. “I think there’s a show on TV that I want to watch.”

“That’s what the folks at home did then, wasn’t it?”


“Turn to a different TV show.”

“Look,” I said, “the soldiers at My Lai were carrying out orders from above.”


“Yes, their commanding officers ordered them to destroy the village in order to save it.”

“Yes. What could possibly go wrong?”

“Are you going to keep this up all morning?”

“The higher ups found out about the affair at My Lai, though, didn’t they?”

“They investigated it thoroughly, in a process of self-evaluation.”

“Yes. What could possibly go wrong?”

“The Vietnam war was a bad piece of business,” I said. “Yes, they covered up the massacre. But then the military made corrections. They went to an all-volunteer military. They stopped individual rotations to promote unit cohesion. They trained soldiers better. They developed even more sophisticated weaponry, the envy of the world. Our military is now the best trained, the best equipped, and the best financed in the world.”

“Yes,” he said. “What could possibly go wrong?”

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