by Alfred A. Hambidge, Jr
March 9, 2003
The snow was coming down pretty heavy as I walked towards the National Mall.
I've always liked walking during a snowstorm; everything seems so quiet,
every noise is muffled, even here in D.C. And this storm was a doozy,
hammering much of the East Coast.
I don't know why, but I started heading for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
There weren't many people there; few visit during weather like this. As I
walked by the panels, relishing the stillness, I came upon a man in fatigues.
Though one of those floppy green hats covered his head, he seemed
under-dressed considering the cold.
The area around him was devoid of wind and snow, as if the Wall created a
sheltered harbor from the storm. He was staring at one panel, at a spot
about chest high. Upon my approach, he said to no one in particular,
"Goddamn bastards are doing it again". The sound of his voice startled me; I
flinched, and stopped. He turned to look at me.
"We never learn, do we?" he asked. My quizzical look made him chuckle, and
he continued as he turned back toward the Wall: "It never ceases to amaze me
what we let ourselves be turned into cannon fodder for. We let ourselves get
talked into all sorts of horror, and only after the body bags start piling up
do we begin to wonder why".
We both knew he had my attention now. "Know how many names are here?" he
asked. "Something like 50,000", I replied. "You make it sound like a
goddamn statistic" he said, "There's Fifty Eight Thousand Two Hundred And
Twenty Nine names on this Wall". He said the words slowly, enunciating each
"Fifty Eight Thousand Two Hundred And Twenty Nine. Every one of them a son;
a brother, or a father, a husband, a cousin, a lover, a neighbor, a friend.
Fifty Eight Thousand Two Hundred And Twenty Nine boys brought home in boxes.
For what? For fuckin' nothing. And now the bastards are gonna do it again".
"You mean Iraq?" I asked. "That isn't gonna be for nothing. Saddam is
dangerous, he has to be stopped".
The man could barely conceal his contempt. "Give me a break. A danger to
who? Us here in the U.S. of A.? Is his navy off our coast? Is his air
force flying over our cities? The only danger he poses is to his neighbors,
maybe, and they're so worried about it that they're willing to let us die for
them, but won't fight him themselves. And they want us to pay them for the
privilege. With friends like that ..." His voice trailed off. "Maybe
you're right", he finally said, "this isn't for nothing. It's for oil".
My raised eyebrows made him shake his head, and he went on: "I don't know
what's worse. Killing people over political philosophy, like in my time, or
for oil. Hey, at least this time we might get something for our blood. Like
ol' Tecumseh Sherman said, 'Nations go to war when there is something to be
got by it'. Now oil can be got by it. After a great start, we're gonna be
no different than any other empire that came down the historical pike.
"And I know what you're gonna say next. 'He sponsors terrorism'. Where's
the proof? I thought we were going after bin Laden for that. But wait,
Afghanistan ain't got any oil. So we need another monster, who's got
something worth taking. And Saddam is so damn convenient. Yeah, he's an
evil sonovabitch who deserves to be taken out, but are we the ones who should
do it? Are our kids the ones who should die for it? Is he worth another
Wall like this?
"And what the hell is terrorism, anyway? It's not a thing; it's not a place;
it's not a person. It is a political and military strategy, that's all.
Having a 'War On Terrorism' is as ridiculous as having a 'War on Flanking
Maneuvers'. You'll end terrorism when there's no longer anything for anybody
to get pissed off about".
"As for now, maybe if we looked at why people are pissed at us, we'd begin to
understand. Hell, it doesn't matter whether they're right or wrong; it's
what they perceive that motivates them. What you have to address is why they
perceive things as they do. Only then will you start to get a clue. And
spare me the bullshit about them hating us because of our freedom. We
haven't been truly free in a long time. And now we're letting all this
demagoguery convince us to give up what little liberty we have left. Big
"Look at history, man. The Romans began with a republic, just like we did.
The freedom and prosperity that followed made them complacent, apathetic.
They became fat and happy, and mistakenly figured that government was
responsible. Since their government was such a Good Thing, it didn't need
watching, so few paid it any attention. Those with a knack for politics took
advantage of that to increase their power, and also their stash. Eventually
the republic degraded into an empire, and suffered the fate of all empires.
They go broke trying to keep control of every place they've conquered.
"We're heading down the same road. Only this time, it's happening faster.
It took three, four centuries for Rome to decline and fall. We might do it
in three or four decades. Hell, maybe three or four years. Or months! Who
the hell knows?"
He paused for a moment; I could see him trying to calm his breathing. He
began to slowly read from the Wall, his eyes moving randomly over the panel.
"David T. Hilton. William C. Langham. John A. Gibson. Richard Galan.
Danny Lee Frye. Cecil D. Lamm. All these boys blown off the face of the
Earth, because we just can't keep our noses out of what's happening on the
other side of the world. Ever read George Washington's Farewell Address?"
I shook my head. "He told us not to concern ourselves with what other
countries are doing to and amongst themselves. He said it would just get us
mired in a big mess. But did we listen? Nooooo. He warned us! Jefferson
warned us! Most all of the Founders warned us! John Quincy Adams, about
thirty years later, said 'America does not go out in search of monsters to
destroy'. Well, now we do, John Q.
"You know what I finally figured out? People don't start wars. Countries
don't start wars. It's governments that start wars. Fuckin' governments.
And we go along with it. Whenever you see a problem, social or economic or
political, and think that government should do something about the problem,
do a little homework and you'll probably find that government is the source
of the problem. And war is just the epitome of government problem solving.
So what if a majority thinks that this coming war is right. The majority is
just something that government manufactures and manipulates to give the
appearance of legitimacy to what government does.
"And as for those government bozos who say that those who question their
plans and motives are unpatriotic and aiding the enemy, well, they can just
kiss my ass".
I stared at the ground. Thirty years of fear, of doubt, of anger, of hurt,
of rage, was coming out of him in a rush. It made me uncomfortable, but I
couldn't move from that spot; I wanted him to continue. He seemed to sense
"You know what really galls me? How those that seem to yell loudest for war
have never seen one. They've never seen a buddy disappear from the waist up
after a shell hit, then see his legs stand there for a moment before falling
over. They never saw a friend all psyched up about going home tomorrow after
finishing his tour get hit in the belly with shrapnel, see his guts spill
out, then watch him try to gather up his intestines lying in the dirt.
"They never saw what napalm does do a little girl's skin. They never saw a
19-year-old from Iowa screaming and writhing on the ground because a mine
blew his legs off. They never saw a man take a bullet through the brain,
then watch his body flop around on the ground for a minute or so because it
doesn't realize he's dead. They never put pieces of someone into a bag, not
knowing who it was until you read the tags, because there wasn't any face
left to go along with the other parts. They haven't seen the shit I've seen,
and they want to do it all over again. Those bastards!
"But what really makes me mad is how those who should know better seem to
have forgotten. All those vets in Congress, POW's even, who know what I'm
talking about, but will go along with the calls for war because it's
politically expedient. Don't they remember? Do they really want another
generation of kids to experience that shit? Have they gotten so accustomed
to the trappings of power that people are just pawns, tools, mere things to
be manipulated for their own ends? DO THEY KNOW WHAT THE FUCK THEY'RE DOING?
"But it doesn't matter. We'll let them do it anyway".
He began walking away, head up but eyes looking down. As he receded into the
swirling snow, I saw him raise his face to the storm, toward Capitol Hill.
"DAMN YOU BASTARDS!" was the last thing I heard as he disappeared into the
I turned to the panel next to me. The wind and snow came heavier now; I
hunched my shoulders and lowered my face. My gaze fell upon names near the
bottom. William R. Hunt. David F. Bowman. Hector L. Sanchez. David W.
Wooden. Gary B. Jones. Oscar L. Thomas. Ramon Hernandez Torres. Thomas C.
Mays. Woodrow D. Adler. Jonathan Blue Jr.