Friday, August 28, 2009

Lieutenant William Calley... in the news, this time for breaking his 38-year silence and apologizing for the My Lai massacre in 1968. (You youngsters can Google it and find out what I'm talking about.) I always thought of Calley as a convenient scapegoat for those in power who put other people's kids in harm's way. I'm not excusing Calley's behavior, of course, but I think it's a reminder that we need to be very, very careful about sending young men (and women) off to war. It doesn't always end well.

I've often wondered how well I'd do in battle and I'm afraid the answer is: not very. It sounds terrifying! I just don't think I'd react well to having strangers shooting at me. So I can only imagine what it would be like to be an 18- or 19-year old, fresh out of high school (whose friends are off at college drinking beer), who's probably never been away from home or even traveled much, and is asked to carry a gun in a far-off, hostile environment (like Iraq or Afghanistan). Adding to that, people are shooting at you and killing or injuring your fellow soldiers, sometimes with booby-traps or IEDs. You're probably homesick, sleep-deprived, scared, constantly on edge, and now looking for vengeance. How well should we expect a kid like that to handle all of this? Of course abuses are going to happen. That's why we need to think long and hard before we send young people off to war and only then as a last resort and only when it's absolutely necessary--definitely not so leaders who avoided the draft when they were young can strut around and call themselves "War Presidents." (Don't even get me started on vice presidents who had five deferments and think they are president.) So if we do send teenagers off to war, we shouldn't be too surprised if they don't always conduct themselves perfectly. Punish them accordingly, but remember who sent them there in the first place.

No comments: