Remember those lofty words—life, liberty
the pursuit of happiness—the shots heard ’round
the world? But this Desert Storm, now I ask you:
Columnists tell us we’re so relieved we’ve righted
Vietnam. Righted Vietnam??? I guess I never
realized the hate, the loathing and the self-defeat
that those who thought we could have won it felt
through almost twenty years. Forget the jungle,
the civil nature of the war, the hero status
of Ho Chi Minh, much less the armies of Chinese
who were poised to cross the border. Why not just accept
we’d been suckered by the likes of Bao Di?
Well, we could have bombed it back a century,
but some of us were just a little squeamish after
Hiroshima, we figured we’d better leave a few
green patches. At least I could rejoice when
we left some of the children with their skin.
Since then, some credit is due, I will admit,
we took in Cambodians, Vietnamese adrift
in boats, we’re working on it yet. And we did
get out without the domino effect
although the Hmong might beg to differ
as they write their odyssey, stitch by
stitch, into this quirky quilted land.
The other side had a point, we protesters didn’t play
out the right scenario. We stayed behind,
thought those that went should have known much better.
While we marched, they died or lost their limbs.
We didn’t have a parade from them, however,
we finally commissioned a shiny wall & etched it
with the names of all those returned in body bags
and those with bodies that didn’t need a bag.
But would a parade have wiped away the names or
the jungle nightmares of those left alive?
Yes, we should have done it. If they do return this time,
we won’t begrudge them their hurrahs. However,
let’s do it right, let’s celebrate only the heroes,
the decent common Joes. I’ll cheer for those
who just got trapped in this predicament, or others
who felt the mighty call to defend
our American freedoms–we certainly can
understand how no one’s love was lost on Saddham Hussein.
So they flew the planes, they fired off
the artillery that freed Kuwait and felt
no jubilation for the humans who met
a different fate. But let’s not include or overrate
the heroism of the likes of one returning
Minnesotan who said (in a very close paraphrase)
It’s the ultimate game to watch them drop.
I certainly enjoyed it.
So let’s get out the yellow ribbons
for all the patriotic military men, but
I’d like a little prime time for
an American army of another sort.
Maybe in the not too distant future
we can ribbon heroes that do not carry guns,
but wear their missions on their hearts.
Let’s have a parade of ticker tape for them.
There’s Rosa Parks who claimed her dignity,
battling white men who wanted her seat on the front
of the bus in Montgomery and her legions
of freedom riders, the high school students
at Little Rock or Andrew, Michael and James
killed by sheriff’s deputies for registering
black Mississippians and that General Martin
with his “I had a Dream” speech, or even earlier,
the likes of Harriet Tubman and Phyllis Wheatley.
We’ll let them call out the cadence for our stride.
I’d line up the company CEO’s who divested
in South African apartheid and furthermore,
I’d ribbon the 30,000 peace corps workers
who, with less than a sergeant’s pay, have risked disease
and death in third world countries helping people
in ways unrelated to the defense industry,
learning indigenous languages and then
quietly coming home. We’ll include those scientists
trying to save the rain forests or those helping
the Yugoslavians, but those rearming
the dictators of the world before this latest
conflagration and before the next, we’ll not
include them. We won’t leave out Gloria Steinam.
I’d add all the low paid social workers and even
the police who hold their fire and those as sick to death
as anyone of the racism that stalks our city streets.
We could name names of those leaders
who deserted this war on poverty and left
the enlisted to tinker with the rusting
machinery of care, certainly we don’t want
them in our ranks. And bringing up the rear,
we do want all those adoptive parents, fearless
Sarah Brady, Greenpeace, and, last but not least,
Amnesty International that doesn’t let
the sun set on anybody’s inhumane prison.
So far its an uphill battle, jingoism
can’t cure it, a frenzy of waving flags
won’t purify the heart or wash away
the consequences for those of us
too intimidated or too old
to call for bolder strategy. So let’s roll
out what we must, now that the Kurds
are on the mountainsides,
no food, no shelter, no place to go
in the icy upper atmosphere, and
ethnic cleansing is beginning to take its toll
in Bosnia, Herzegovina. But after this
let’s dismantle the armaments, the rockets,
and stem the diaspora of our despair,
send in the United Nations forces
before a firestorm is set that sends us
out into the next century with nothing left
but an upper hand to wave.