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The Big-Box Store Confrontation: Issues of War and Peace Among the Jeans

It was not a confrontation with someone with right-wing points of view in the usual sense. No screaming… no denunciations… not even the hint of a physical threat was apparent in the huge, warehouse environment in which this unexpected confrontation occurred. The aisles were not even jammed as would be expected just a few, short days before Christmas, so the discussion could go on unimpeded until it reached its unsatisfactory end.

The dialogue didn’t include any observations on Trump’s plan to pull troops out of Syria, or the impending departure of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the so-called last adult in the room left standing in the Trump administration. With adults like Mattis, readers can imagine the horrific success of Trump in the deconstruction of governmental departments like the State Department, education, interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency: It’s the stuff the likes of which an actor like Ronald Reagan could have only dreamed about!

The woman and I were perusing a display of jeans at the well-known discount outlet when we began a innocuous discussion about where the waistline falls on a particular company’s line of jeans. Sort of the mundane stuff of a consumer culture. She mentioned that she was purchasing jeans for her son who was stationed at an Army base in Virginia. I replied that I had been in the Army, and before I could go any further, she offered up the expected “Thank you for your service,” a refrain that has accompanied interactions of this kind since war became normalized in the U.S. during the first Gulf War under George H.W. Bush.

Veterans for Peace, a group to which I belong, offers a recommendation when dealing with statements like the one recounted above… Their suggestion is to reply with words like “If you want to thank me for my service, then work for peace.”

No matter that I was a war resister in the military during the Vietnam era. The person with whom I had this conversation would not have begun to understand the place from where I came and the frown and twisting of her facial expression that accompanied my “Well…” to her remark was enough to stop me cold.

Next, she began a monologue about her son’s work servicing missiles in the military. I have no idea if the missiles she mentioned by name are of the “ordinary” type, or a nuclear-tipped variety, and I really didn’t want to know. And I have nothing personal against either her son or her, but the kind of militarization that she espoused in our “talk” left me speechless. I thought that by extending a dialogue about issues of war and peace, I might have been able to at least bring some balance to the discussion, but it was the same feeling that I got following the 2016 election when some liberal groups began organizing to go into precincts around the country and engage those voters who may have given Trump the advantage that he had in winning the Electoral College vote. As a fellow writer and fellow veteran has repeatedly said to me, “I can’t bring myself to engage Trump supporters.”

And so it was with this discussion. It ended with my fellow shopper recounting the long line of members of her family who had been in the military over the past 70 years or so.

I thought back through the many decades to the member of a service organization who sat with me on the panel of the special Discharge Review Board that President Jimmy Carter established to review discharges from the Vietnam era that may have been unfairly given to those who opposed the Vietnam War. That representative sat at my hearing before the board and recounted his family’s history in service to the wars the U.S. has fought, beginning with the American Revolution. He ended with a condemnation of my stance against the Vietnam War and I was left speechless sitting at the table before the board in a government building in Boston. Again, getting in a word to bring his monologue to an end was fruitless and I just sat in amazement before I gathered my thoughts and proceeded with my presentation of my opposition to that war and my case.

It amazes at how some Democrats have aided the cause for war as Trump expresses his mercurial temperament vis-a-vis issues of war and peace. Enough supported Trump in the House to derail a push to disengage the U.S. from the Saudi destruction of Yemen. Who knows Trump’s reasoning, and if his thought processes can even be rightly called reasoning? What I do know is that war has been made such a regular feature of life in the U.S. that we know little about the details of the wars being fought around the world, and when we do learn something of them through an errant attack against the innocent, masses of refugees being shunned across the globe, or the relentless pursuit of journalists and whistleblowers who sound the alarm about the consequences of these wars, the facts inevitably fall on deaf ears.

In the New York Times (October 22, 2017), “Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who lost a son in Iraq and is a critic of military operations, says that ‘a collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America.’”

When I think about U.S. war making and the trillions of dollars spent on war and the millions of lives lost and lives squandered, I think of the movement in drama called the “Theatre of the Absurd.” It was a fairly recent movement… post World War II… on the stage that saw all manner of mayhem and the unexpected being played out, except in those existential enterprises no lives were lost.  Life has no meaning or purpose in that form of theatre and that’s pretty much what we’re left with now in terms of the issues of war and peace.

 

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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