Honoring buddies, not war, on Memorial Day

Today, I will again lift a pint of ale in memory of my three friends and their comrades who died in Vietnam.

I honor them without honoring the aggressive and unjust war in which they fought.

I don’t know what their motivation was to join the military, maybe it was simply that the draft gave them no choice, but it really doesn’t matter. What I do know for sure is that their lives were unnecessarily cut short.

As a young peace activist in the late 60s, I probably didn’t always make a distinction between the soldiers fighting the war and the war itself. The soldier and the general were equally responsible.

But I don’t make that mistake now. I place responsibility for war on its architects in high places and a social system – capitalism – whose logic is to expand, dominate, and make war when necessary.

Ricky, Tuna and Cotter were at the bottom of this hierarchy of war making, nothing but cannon fodder, working class kids whose lives didn’t count for much in our government’s war plans. None of them ever had a silver spoon in their mouths, either in life or at the moment of their death.

I will always wonder what kind of lives they would have lead. With no heroes welcome, no jobs, no counseling waiting for them, would they have had the internal resources and family support to come to terms with the war and to live productive lives?

I easily (perhaps unfairly) doubt it, because each of them was not that different from me, and I have no confidence at all that I could have made that adjustment. It was hard enough to grow up in the 1960s without war experience on my emotional resume.

I wish though that they had a chance. I wish that their sweetness wasn’t wasted doing things that no one should be forced to do. I wish that they had the opportunity to live long and happy lives.

I miss them. I celebrate them. They were “my buddies.” I wish they could join me at the Bronx Ale House today for a pint in their honor, although knowing them, I suspect, a single pint wouldn’t quite satisfy them, which would be ok with me.

I also wish that we could toast to the millions in our generation who opposed the war. Some of them lost their lives, some of them went to jail, and some of them were scarred by the experience. They, too, deserve to be honored. It was our generation’s “finest hour.”

Finally, to top off the afternoon, I would like the four of us to clink glasses in tribute to the people of Vietnam who suffered so much during and after the war and who are now developing their country in conditions of peace and mutual relations with our country.

Maybe that is too much to expect from them. Unfortunately, I will never know. They will join me only in memory this afternoon. I wish it were different, but I will treasure the memory as I wash down my pint of ale.

Photo: BAR Photography/CC



Sam Webb
Sam Webb

Sam Webb is a long-time socialist and activist living in New York. He served as the national chairperson of the Communist Party from 2000 to 2014. Previously, he was the state organizer of the Communist Party in Michigan. Earlier, he was active in the labor movement in his home state of Maine. He blogs at SamWebb.org.