Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ron Kovic’s Poignant Memory of War

When I was eighteen, every young man faced conscription. Friends were either faced with the draft, were intending to enlist, or were in the Armed Forces -- other than not being physical capable, or if you could acquire conscientious objector status, or if you had the means to flee the country, you would otherwise serve. For those who have not served or experience life during the zeitgeist of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, they don’t have a full understanding of the realities of military service, much less war.

Today, a majority of younger Americans have never served in the Armed Forces. They have imbibed their understanding of military service and war from motion pictures, video war games, and/or otherwise formed by how the mainstream news media handles the reporting of our current wars. Unlike those wars of the mid-twentieth century, inadequate war footage and incompetent media war reporting, as well as restrictions placed on publishing the images of our current wars, have sanitized the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in such a way that most Americans are ignorant of the true horror of those wars, or what face those veterans if and when they return home.

Most combat veterans cannot talk about their experiences. Not even to their families or best friends. They will only share their experiences with other veterans. They instinctively know that others just would not understand the adrenalin-driven rushes, exultation, rage, and dreadful fear that are at times simultaneously felt in combat, the frequent killing and mayhem of their 24/7 existence, and the overwhelming feeling that you have made it through that last firefight when the guy next to you did not. They instinctively know that others will not give them the time to explain: it’s not something capable of imparting in a sound bite. It’s a lack of understanding evident in the egregious treatment by hecklers of Vietnam War veterans when they returned home. While many of them received an educational or other deferment, those hecklers didn’t have a clue of what it meant to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States in Vietnam. They didn’t seem to understand that many of those returning veterans did not have the wherewithal to receive a deferment, that they were facing up to 5 years imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine if they evaded or refused mandatory conscription.

That’s why it’s important for veterans who have oratory and/or writing skills, who are willing to take the risk, to communicate their experiences. Men like Ron Kovic, Vietnam War veteran, co-writer of the film and author of the autobiography “Born on the Fourth of July,” who on December 12, 2010 made an appeal, “Raise Your Voices, Protest, Stop These Wars,” a request directed at veterans to join the anti-war struggle and to support the work of March Forward! That’s why it makes Ron Kovic’s recent piece for, “In the Presence of My Enemy: A Reflection on War and Forgiveness,” important to read, especially for those who have never served or experienced life when the horrors of war were a part of life and in your face every single day.


Frankie Donlon, Freedom of Photography needed to cover wars,