FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Soldier’s Dream

by STEPHEN T. BANKO, III

I dreamed kind Jesus fouled the big guns’ gears; And caused a permanent stoppage in all bolts; And with a smile Mausers and Colts;
And rusted every bayonet with His tears.

“A Soldier’s Dream”, Wilfred Owen

There weren’t a lot of guys in Vietnam who had ever heard of Wilfred Owen. So chances are there were many who had ever read the poem that begins this piece. It is not too far a reach, however, to say that every grunt in Vietnam whispered fervent, personal versions of “A Soldier’s Dream” during the first five seconds of his first firefight.

I first mumbled my own rendition of Owen’s dream on a bloody killing ground outside Phu Loi within days of arriving in the inferno. Broken bodies and detached limbs were strewn around the ground the way auto parts litter a junkyard. I’ve yet to know which was more chilling: the screaming of the wounded or the silence of the dead.

One of our victims was searched when the shooting stopped and the bleeding continued and was found to be in possession of a medal. Our interpreter told us it was for heroism at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu fourteen years previous. While we were sent to war to fight communism, he had fought his whole life for his country’s right to self-determination. We traveled 12,000 miles to kill him for that. Lying next to him was a teenager who looked even younger than most of our own troops. He carried with him a diary of his journey –all on foot –from his home near Haiphong to this bleak, unnamed battlefield where his short life ended in a firestorm of shellfire and relentless attack from my platoon.

The soldiers lying dead at our feet and by our hands had walked into an ambush. We had become murderously adept at killing from ambush under the relentless teaching of sergeants who told us “killing is our business and business is good.” Before most of the kids in my platoon had come to Vietnam, the most important decision they had made was who to take to the senior prom. Now, they were learning to pick out targets.

So it was that I learned that war is a surrealistic penal colony for the young patriots of the real world who must pay the price for the believable myths of national furors and private enterprise. I saw these young kids, just months removed from the halls of high school live in ways no one was meant to live and die in ways those back home could never even imagine. For eleven months, I would stomp through steaming rice paddies and prowl the dark and bloody jungles, sometimes looking for “enemy” to kill and others, screaming to the heavens for simple survival. We found it easier to say “I killed the enemy today” than to accept that we took the life of another human being. We’d been steeped in the fundamental beliefs of the Judeo-Christian ethic and recognized that one of the great taboos in that tradition was the taking of human life. Now, we were rewarded for becoming proficient at killing.

Before coming to Vietnam, I had been indoctrinated both my country and my church that the fight against “godless communism” was a just and moral war. But after my first taste of the sour bile of combat, I knew there would be no victor in this war, no matter how moral was our cause. I went off imbued with the belief in the righteousness of our moral war only to come home and rarely feel righteous or moral ever again.

We fought with men we didn’t hate, sent to that fight by men I didn’t trust and for more than three decades, I’ve struggled with the guilt and the isolation that is part of survival. I’ve rarely been able to shake the feeling that I had stolen something from those who died. In reality, of course, we all died there: some the swift certain death borne on a bullet; others the slower, spiritual death that comes from guilt and the liability of remembering too well.

So many believe it heroic and patriotic to send young men and women off to war and as long as they do, young men and women will be sent. Should I ever have the choice again, rather than lead a million boys to war, I would rather die alone –for peace.

That is this old soldier’s dream.

For his service in Vietnam, Steven T. Banko III was awarded two Silver Stars, four Bronze Stars, the Air Medal and four Purple Hearts. He has long been active in veteran’s affairs, both in Buffalo and nationally. This essay originally appeared in The Buffalo Report.

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
Pete Dolack
Killing Ourselves With Technology
David Krieger
The 10 Worst Acts of the Nuclear Age
Lamont Lilly
Movement for Black Lives Yields New Targets of the State
Martha Rosenberg
A Hated Industry Fights Back
Robert Fantina
Hillary, Gloria and Jill: a Brief Look at Alternatives
Chris Doyle
No Fireworks: Bicentennial Summer and the Decline of American Ideals
Michael Doliner
Beyond Dangerous: the Politics of Climate
Colin Todhunter
Modi, Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill: Doing Business or Corporate Imperialism?
Steve Church
Brexit: a Rush for the Exits!
Matthew Koehler
Mega Corporation Gobbles Up Slightly Less-Mega Corporation; Chops Jobs to Increase Profits; Blames Enviros. Film at 11.
David Green
Rape Culture, The Hunting Ground, and Amy Goodman: a Critical Perspective
Ed Kemmick
Truckin’: Pro Driver Dispenses Wisdom, Rules of the Road
Alessandro Bianchi
“China Will React if Provoked Again: You Risk the War”: Interview with Andre Vltchek
Christy Rodgers
Biophilia as Extreme Sport
Missy Comley Beattie
At Liberty
Ron Jacobs
Is Everything Permitted?
Cesar Chelala
The Sad Truth About Messi
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail