Last Monday, on network TV news, I heard the president of the United States condoning TORTURE. I have never been so heartsick for my country.
My God, I can’t find the right words for the response demanded by this situation. Certain images keep coming up—that’s all I can put out there for now. I keep seeing the terrified face of a young NVA soldier our patrol captured after a brief, nasty firefight near the DMZ, where we lost a point Marine. I remember us all standing in interval under a tattered jungle canopy, sobered and subdued by the sight of the poncho-wrapped figure being hoisted up the medivac chopper cable. Then, here’s this NVA kid being escorted back down the line. Here was the face of the enemy, maybe all of 14 in age! I think most of us were in a weird state of curiosity and astonishment, mixing in with a benumbed sense of grief, dread and rage. The thing is, someone was moved to give him a cigarette, which dangled loosely from his mouth, drawn back in abject (and well-founded) fear. To see a Marine make this simple, compassionate gesture to a despised enemy soldier was somehow reassuring to this overgrown, lethally-armed boy scout without a clue. It was an example in my mind that we were all basically decent Americans at heart, trying to do the right thing in this miserable conflict for a the noble cause of freedom.
I was reassured that what made Americans the good guys in the history of our foreign wars was that we did not torture or otherwise abuse prisoners of war. That’s what separated us from the “dirty Japs,” Nazis and communists we so dutifully defied! Oh my God, what now! Are the 40 percent of us supporting this overgrown bully also buying into the idea that torture might be an OK thing while MAKING AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!?
As an American combat veteran, I have never felt more betrayed. It is so tempting to storm down the path of cynicism and rage, but I hope the better angels of my nature keep me aligned with the balm of love, which is “the only ointment God offers to heal wounds too deep for healing” (Stewart Udall).
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