Trying to fall back to sleep, I found myself pondering why I am antiwar. Much like this guy, I am so opposed to it that I’m certain I can say now that I’m against whatever our next military adventure might be, whether Syria, Iran or Timbuktu.
This wasn’t always the case. Nor did I always think that war was a racket, much like two-time Medal of Honor recipient Major General Smedley Butler of the USMC. In fact, growing up playing with G.I. Joe action figures, I initially thought war was pretty cool. I’ll never forget how that changed.
My uncle Orie Thomas fought in World War II, “the good war”. He wasn’t a big part of my life, except in stories, due to the fact that the war changed him profoundly. For the worse. His ex-wife, Esther, raised me along with her two daughters and a grandson. Occasionally we would go visit him “in the holler,” and he always seemed like a nice enough guy in spite of the horror stories I’d heard of him.
Memory fails in recollecting the actual time/date, but it was elementary school—maybe as early as 3rd grade, but probably no later than 5th. Orie had come to stay with us for a few days after a procedure at the VA Hospital. I was happy to have him around. I showed him my baseball card collection, and he told me stories about some of the legendary players whose cards I could only dream of ever acquiring. At some point, I got up the courage to ask him about WWII. I was not entirely naïve about the subject for my age. Certainly I was into G.I. Joe and had read my fair share of Captain America comics, but at the time I was actively reading about Stalin for a book report. Still, I didn’t expect the version of history that I received.
Perhaps he could tell that I expected him to romanticize, and more than likely I said something about how I might join the Army, or the Marines. Instead, I got the kind of story Dalton Trumbo was advocating in Johnny Got His Gun. He recounted to me vividly his memories of death and destruction, mayhem and mutilation. The thing that stands out the most in my mind, even today, was how he explained the process of piling the dead bodies of his fellow troops all around him on a Jeep. Apparently, this gruesome gig was his detail more than once. The story chilled me to my core, and I still can’t imagine what the reality must have been like.
He told me that he had seen enough war for our whole family, and that he didn’t think that military service was a good idea. I never looked at G.I. Joe the same again. Or my little green Army men, for that matter. As such, I have a radically different idea of what it might, or should, mean to “support the troops”. None of which involves more war.