If I’d been born in 1950, I would have been 18 in 1968, heading off to college. I’d have been able to vote in that year’s presidential election, and I’d have voted for whichever candidate would have gotten us out of Vietnam fastest. And I’d have greatly disliked my government.
I probably would have taken part in protests, calling for an end to the war. Instead of being WWII and Vietnam-era veterans, my Grandpa and Dad would’ve fought in WWI and WWII, respectively. My other Grandpa was born between the wars – too young for the last one, too old for the next one – but he served his four years in the Army, too. Coming from a family in which military service is expected and applauded, I see myself, regardless of when I was born, having the same admiration and respect for those who serve, fight, and sacrifice. Even at 18, I knew the members of the US Military are ultimately answerable to the Commander-in-Chief, the president of the US, and they have to obey his decisions, whether they like them or not. There have been presidents in our history whose desire to engage in war has put troops in harm’s way that the presidents themselves would shy from, and men and women who have died because of a president’s ego or posturing. There still are.
I’d be watching the boys with whom I grew up heading off to war. These two in the Navy as enlisted personnel. This friend using the education deferment, but he would graduate before the war’s end and be drafted if he didn’t enlist. My cousin trying out the education deferment, but getting drafted after flunking out after his first year. Or maybe the fear of being drafted would have made him buckle down – more studying, less partying. His birthday is early enough in the year that the draft would have caught him, lottery or no. This friend claiming a conscientious objection based on religious reasons. This other friend – my first crush – being rejected for service because of being “a deviant”; he’s gay.
So, while I would have protested, I would not have taken my feelings out on those who fight. After all, they are not the ones who declared war; they’re just the ones who have to fight the battles, risking family, mental health, body parts, and even their very own lives. A friend from high school once said, “I support our troops. I support them so much I want them to come home where it’s safe.” If I’d been born in 1950, my spittle, either literal or figurative, would have expressed my contempt for the war-mongering government, but my words would have expressed my deep respect for those brave men and women who laid it all on the line, simply because their government told them to do so.