I was thinking about my grandfather this morning, as I often do this time of year and at the same time I came across this old Howard Zinn profile while sorting through yet another folder of links.
Zinn has experienced war firsthand. During World War II, he was a bombardier in the Army Air Corps. Near the end of the conflict, Zinn -- following the orders of his commanders -- dropped napalm on German soldiers who were on the ground in Royan, France. The experience had even more impact on him when he returned to civilian life and realized his role in the deaths of German soldiers and French civilians. Zinn had joined the Army Air Corps to "fight fascism."
"I was an enthusiastic bombardier in World War II," Zinn says over the phone. "I volunteered. I enlisted. To me, it was a very simple thing -- it was a war against fascism and, therefore, it was a good war. Only after the war, when I became aware of what the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did to several hundred thousand human beings, and I thought back on my own bombings, and that ordinary people were killed, and when I read something about the history of our bombing in Europe, in Dresden and Frankfurt, and killing of 100, 000 people in Tokyo in one night -- this so-called good war became less than good to me. It was much more complex. And I came to the conclusion that war corrupts everyone who engages in it. Even if the enemy is evil, it doesn't make you good. And, in fact, you become more like the enemy as you get into war. We see that now in Iraq, how the soldiers are corrupted by the situation. "
I'm thinking: this is just as much reason as any why creeps like Grover Norquist can't wait for the greatest generation to die off. People my grandfather's age -- Zinn's age -- lived through the Depression, know the rich are probably up to no good, remember how the government brought them electricity and jobs, a safety net and infrastructure.
But they also, almost to a man, had to fight a war -- the only just war the United States has fought in the last century -- and didn't like it very much in retrospect.
I've mentioned before what my grandfather did -- he was at Bertchesgaden and Bastogne, too, I think (506th Parachute Infantry), and also in the occupation. And while he never expressed any doubt whatsover that the Nazis had it coming, he also said that the only way the Army would get him back is by dragging him by his boots.
Put another way, these men are the opposite of the chickenhawk/chickenshit regime which rules us and menaces the world. Yes, even Daddy Bush, the WW2 pilot, is obviously not the war-lover that his son is. The odd Curtis LeMay or Leon Trotsky to one side, usually men who have actually seen action aren't so keen in seeing more of it. Dishing out massive death and destruction, even to evil men, weighs -- or should weigh -- heavily on the conscience. Obviously, in the glorious new neoconservative world, such cautious men should die ASAP.
Zinn's conflicted about what he did. I think most are -- or were, while they lived out their lives.
I know my grandfather would think this war is a stupid waste. As would his father, whom I remember well, who fought in the trenches in WWI. So would, I imagine (from what I know of family lore, which is a lot in this case), the man who built my house and served as grenadier in Bismarck's army, my great-great grandfather.
A lot of the grand old men on the anti-war Left are veterans. Gore Vidal served in the Aleutians; George McGovern, of course, was a decorated bomber who did some dangerous shit in WW2. Zinn was a bomber. Kurt Vonnegut was infantry, I think, and a POW nearly killed when we bombed Dresden. Chomsky, I'm not sure of. Seems like Habermas was a pubescent serving in the coerced final dregs of resistence before Germany surrendered. Norman Mailer served in the Pacific. There's a reason why these guys think this war (like they thought the Vietnam war) is bullshit, and it's not just their politics. And their resistance has weight, which is why the chickenhawks hope they'd just die already.
I hope they live forever.