FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Soldier’s Dream

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:

January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
Vijay Prashad
5.5 Million Women Build Their Wall
Nicky Reid
Lessons From Rojava
Ted Rall
Here is the Progressive Agenda
Robert Koehler
A Green Future is One Without War
Gary Leupp
The Chickens Come Home to Roost….in Northern Syria
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”
Sam Gordon
Who Are Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists?
Weekend Edition
January 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Richard Moser
Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?
Paul Street
Bordering on Fascism: Scholars Reflect on Dangerous Times
Joseph Majerle III – Matthew Stevenson
Who or What Brought Down Dag Hammarskjöld?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
How Tre Arrow Became America’s Most Wanted Environmental “Terrorist”
Andrew Levine
Dealbreakers: The Democrats, Trump and His Wall
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Que Syria, Syria
Dave Lindorff
A Potentially Tectonic Event Shakes up the Mumia Abu-Jamal Case
Nick Pemberton
There Are More Important Things Than The Truth
Brian Cloughley
How Trump’s Insults and Lies are Harming America
David Rosen
Sexual Predators in the Era of Trump
Tamara Pearson
Everything the Western Mainstream Media Outlets Get Wrong When Covering Poor Countries
Richard E. Rubenstein
Trump vs. the Anti-Trumps: It’s the System That Needs Changing Not Just the Personnel
Christopher Ketcham
A Walk in the Woods, Away from the Screens
Basav Sen
Democrats Failed Their First Big Test on Climate
Lauren Smith
Nicaragua – The Irony of the NICA Act Being Signed into Law by Trump
Joseph Natoli
Will Trumpism Outlive Trump?
Olivia Alperstein
The EPA Rule Change That Could Kill Thousands
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
The New Congress Needs to Create a Green Planet at Peace
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
Cuba: Trump Turns the Vise
Ramzy Baroud
When Bolsonaro and Netanyahu Are ‘Brothers’: Why Brazil Should Shun the Israeli Model
Mitchell Zimmerman
Government by Extortion
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail