Eddie Would Go
by James Strauss
American war heroes die in combat, and if they don’t die in combat, they better not come home. The vets who died didn’t do so well, but the ones who come home often don’t do so well either. Do you think they do? How did Bob Dole (WWII hero) do against Clinton (Vietnam war evader) in that presidential election? How did Kerry (Vietnam war hero) do against Bush (Vietnam war evader)? How has Dick Cheney done (Vietnam war evader and former V.P.)? How is Bob Kerry, a veteran and the man picked to be the head of the Fulbright University in Viet Nam, doing in keeping that job? The articles written about his vaguely described ‘war crimes’ rage through the media, while the fact that he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service goes unreported in many of the articles. So Bob isn’t doing so well.
Why is it that returning warriors frequently don’t do so well when they come home?
The reason generally given is all about the rather ephemeral, but severe, mental damage the veteran might have suffered while serving. Going all the way back in history, that stain laid upon returning warriors (mostly denied by the people painting it on) is indelible and exclusionary. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), with the emphasis on the word disorder, is the phrase linked to serving in the military and surviving actual combat. The veterans were sent into the horror and had a door of reality opened in front of them. That’s right. In combat you see real life just like it appears before you, and real life is horrid. Frightened boys killing everyone around them; friend and enemy alike, because they are scared. And they are sorry, but they are alive. Marines and soldiers killing one another for the most ridiculous of reasons because there’s no legal oversight or criminal investigation going on in combat. Raping, pillaging, stealing and the killing of civilians goes on all the time, and veterans either had to participate in that or had to view and endure what their fellow comrades did, and then say nothing about it, or come home in a bag. Bad war memories don’t come from killing an enemy that justly deserves to die or is trying to kill you. That’s about five percent of real combat and the real life in those fields of horror.
When the veteran comes home it’s to a carefully crafted, and brilliantly created, phenomenal world that bears no resemblance what-so-ever to that ‘real’ one left behind. Adaptation to this phenomenal world must be instantaneous, because the members of the phenomenal world know nothing of that real world you just came back from, and will not believe anything you might say about it. Unless they do believe it, and then call someone to have you prosecuted. There is no form of therapy for returning combat veterans without risk. Those veterans who return and go in for therapy and tell the truth about what they saw and did, get help by being taken out of society for awhile so that they can better adjust. And they take the risk that the place of solace and removal they are removed to may be called prison.
Given all of what has been written and portrayed about coming home from a combat role in war, it is significant to understand that what has not been described is the biggest problem of all. That problem is that there are men and women back home who claim to support veterans, but secretly resent the hell out of them. Most American men never saw, or will see, combat of any kind in their lives. The percentage of those that do is lower than one percent. A commonly expressed belief is that boys go off to war and come back as men. The men who did not, or could not go, don’t like that hoary old belief. It leaves them out, especially the one’s that avoided going. Today it is quite common in conversation to hear men say things like “isn’t it true that the smart men didn’t go?”, or “Not going to war was, in its way, as patriotic as going.” If you think those arguments are silly, then you did not watch the funeral of Mohammed Ali. It was declared time and again that the fighter was a true patriot for refusing to enter the military, or fight in Vietnam (he had “no battle with the VietCong”, and that’s a direct quote). He was given the hugely prestigious “Medal of Freedom” by President Obama. Former president Clinton spoke of his valor to the whole nation.
If you’ve been to Hawaii you’ve seen signs and posters all over that say “Eddie Would Go.” What do they mean? Eddie Aikau was a surfer who went out in huge surf on a March day in 1978. The waves were running over fifty feet. He went out and was never seen again. The phrase is intended to convey an exhibition of courage against the greatest of odds. As with most such acts, everyone wants to admire Eddie but nobody, but nobody, wants to be Eddie.
Eddie died, so he’s remembered as the epitome of courage. If he’d lived probably nobody would know his name. The men and women on the beach when he went in would have referred to him as ‘that idiot’ for awhile, and then he’d have been forgotten. If he’d lived and tried to remind them that he’d gone out in waves which nobody else would go out in, then the people on the shore would have to prove to Eddie that he was an idiot. If he went in for therapy Eddie could be diagnosed as having post traumatic stress, and then he’d be given an ‘adult time out,’ so to speak.
What does it mean when a culture rewards the people who do not go into dangerous circumstances, and in contrast, demands a great price from those who do? What motivations begin to race through the minds of young men and women when they make choices about serving the rest of the nation? Will they seek the rewards of avoidance, so obviously set right in front of them on television and on the Internet, or will they choose to go where someone must go, and likely be lost? If you had to pick between two people who epitomize this, you would have to pick between being treated as Mohammed Ali was treated for the last twenty years, or how Bob Kerry has been treated. Which treatment would you choose? Or did you already choose but you’re not telling anybody?
“Eddie would go.”
Will the chips ever be so down that people must again go and fight for the rest of us back home? Will technology remove the necessity of actual living men and women being delivered through the combat ‘door of reality?” Times change. Cultures adapts to these changes. The American culture has morphed into something extraordinarily different from what it was only forty or fifty years ago. “Eddie would go” will be a phrase that will fade over time and through the application of those changes. Perhaps new Eddie will make believe he would go. Or Eddie’s will say they went. No matter how much changes in this human condition, it is almost certain that at some future date and time someone is going to have to go. Finding that someone (or a group of them) when the need is terribly great, may prove more extraordinarily difficult than anyone today can possibly imagine. Quite possibly the foundation for not going will have been too well laid, too confirmed. When the ones who did go are found to be, and openly discussed as, the ones who were dumb, or foolish, then even the ‘dumb’ or the ‘foolish’ of today will eventually figure it out.
When disaster strikes, when bombs go off, when people are mowed down by gunfire in masses, who will go? Is it the goodness innately given to members of the species by genetic transfer of inherited traits that allows for heroic performance under difficult circumstance or is it the expectation of societal reward for putting everything on the line for no real gain whatever? When everyone is declared a hero for one purpose or another, even when they don’t ‘go,’ so to speak, then where is the motivation to actually ‘go’ and perform supposed to be generated from? When disaster strikes, who will go?
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