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Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Easy to start, difficult to end

September 20, 2013|By Joe Puglia

I was the officer of the day at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, a stopover for Marines coming from and going to Vietnam. I was going. Since I was junior, I pulled the duty.

I was to supervise the movie in the enlisted men's club, referred to as “Dodge City” because of the debauchery at Hansen.

During the movie there was a scene when an actor, searching for a solution to an international crisis, said, “Send the Marines.” Two Marines screamed, “Like hell you will.” Chairs, beer bottles and food started flying at the screen.

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I pulled my pistol and fired a round into the ceiling. I didn't understand their reaction to the movie's scene. In retrospect, I think how easy it was to say, “Send the Marines.” The guys throwing the beer bottles were veterans of Khe Sanh, Hue and Tet. They did the bleeding the previous year.

Recalling that memory, I think of today's crisis in Syria, to bomb or not to bomb. I think of the president and the armchair generals who are screaming punishment but implying vengeance. Older men declare war, but it is youth who fight it. I hear the rationalization of why we must bomb. Hezbollah! Israel! Chemical weapons! Assad! Russia! Iran! We can't show weakness, we're told. But what did we do to Saddam when he gassed the Kurds in the 1980s? Nothing.

I don't know the solution. But I do know what happens on the ground when you do send the Marines. The novel I'm working on is a study of the human cost of war seen through the eyes of characters Seamus O'Grady and Elijah Bravo. They witness the cost of war and realize Ophelia Hawkins, the girl back home, was right when she said there is no glory in dying for your country.

It's easy to send missiles and put boots on the ground. But before we send the Marines, we should think of the human cost. It's not defined by a statistic citing the number of troops killed during a certain week. It's the body bags neatly aligned after a senseless mission. On June 27, 1969, Life magazine published “Faces of American Dead in Vietnam: One Week's Toll,” featuring 242 portraits of soldiers killed, stories about their lives and how they died. That's the human cost. Please Google that title, find the piece, read it, and tell me what you think.

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