Glorified War to Forgotten War


“John. What is unclear? We are in a war to preserve democracy and fight communism. The support of communism is sinister. Do you want to go live under the iron grip of the Soviet Union? Do you want to have all of your freedoms stripped away? Don’t be dumb, boy,” John’s dad exclaimed, exasperated by his son’s incessant inquiries about what was so obvious to everyone else.

  Ignoring his father’s apparent frustration John persisted, “But don’t we preach We are all god’s children? Why would we be at war with our brothers if that were true? Aren’t we supposed to help those in need, not hurt them?” 

  His father had since left the table in a fit of pique, finishing his breakfast in his office. John turned to his mom, waiting for her to answer his questions. 

With a soft voice, she said, “John we aren’t sympathizers. We are proud Americans. Your brother is in Vietnam fighting communism to protect us, democracy, and America.”

He fell silent, unsure of what to say. He missed his older brother; despite their 7-year age gap, they were quite close. John was unable to understand why his brother signed up to fight and kill people he didn’t even know. Depressed by the turn of conversation, he got up to clear his plate and biked over to his friend’s house. 

John was so lost in thought about his parents and brother, and the events taking place in the world that he failed to notice the uneven ground and his bike abruptly hit something, causing him to flip over the handlebars and land on his back. He looked up to take in his surroundings, only to realize he was planted in front of a telephone poll with posters plastered all over it.

“Is this the American way? Is your son next? Know your enemy,” John read the slogans  as he took in the corresponding images: a soldier who was just a boy, a man with the gas mask, and a Vietnamese child. 

Shaking off the fall, he picked up his bike, got back on, and continued his journey. As his friend’s house came into view, he saw the lawn displaying a “Love not War” sign.

“That’s new,” he thought to himself as he made his way over. 

“Hey John, did you finish your homework? You always have the right answers, so I was wondering if I could borrow it?” Oliver, John’s friend, asked.

“Yeah, sure. Hey…what’s with the sign?” John asked. 

“Oh, uhh, you know. My parents are like hippies ‘n’ shit, and they aren’t really about the war. They aren’t really ever about war, but for whatever reason, they’re especially upset about this one; they think it’s pointless,” Oliver rambled on as he kicked the dirt. 

Oliver was probably nervous relaying this to John, given John’s brother was serving in the military and John’s dad was a retired General officer. John had doubts about the war, but he never outright heard someone say there was no purpose to the war. John was silently stunned by Oliver’s candor but ventured inside after Oliver. 

“I would drive to Canada before I allowed our boy to serve in the military where he’s employed to kill innocent people simply defending their country,” Oliver’s mom whisper-yelled in the room adjacent to the entryway. Oliver ushered John into his bedroom not wanting to disrupt his parents. 

“What was that about?” John directed toward Oliver. 

“Oh nothing,” Oliver dismissed.

“Dude, I’ve never heard your mom so much as swat a fly, let alone raise her voice at your dad. What’s up?”

Oliver relented, “My brother got drafted. She is adamant about him not serving. And I kind of get it. I mean don’t you think it’s weird to pretend like fighting another country – killing their people and destroying their home – is heroic? Like a war of defense, I suppose makes some sense, but this isn’t that.”

John thought about that. John’s brother had volunteered for the military the minute he turned eighteen nearly a decade ago, as he was proud to serve his country. It never occurred to John that someone might not be. While he didn’t understand the war himself, he figured he was too young to understand the purpose of war, specifically this one. And didn’t John’s parents say something about how the military was defending democracy and America making this a war of defense? 

“Oh and to protest, I am going to wear this black band on my arm. It’s like a symbol of mourning and well I guess we’re mourning the loss of our brothers, both American and Vietnamese,” Oliver lamented. 

“Oh. But isn’t the war going well? I mean my parents are always going on about how it’s almost over and that they’re close to getting rid of communism” John said. 

“I don’t know how they know, or if they’re right, but my parents say the papers

are lying. The war isn’t going well, and we’ve lost like 10,000 soldiers. Why do you think the draft was created?” Oliver rhetorically asked. 

John’s heart rate quickened and his breath fell short as he absorbed what Oliver was saying. How was this possible? All he heard from his parents was how well everything was going and how there was no way his brother would face any serious danger. 

“I think I’m going to go,” John exclaimed in a hurry.

“Oh okay, but take one of these,” Oliver said.

John took the gift as he made a break for the door, not processing what he was taking from Oliver. John didn’t even stop to say goodbye to Oliver’s parents, instead heading straight for his bike to race home. Initially, he wanted his parents to eliminate all of the concerns that Oliver provoked with his doubts about how the war was really going. But John knew better, and his parents were either lying or didn’t know better themselves. He decided it was the latter, for his own piece of mind. When he got home, he slowly ambled his way in, having lost the urgency to talk to his parents. 

“Hey, honey how was Oliver’s?” John’s mom inquired. 

“Uhh, great,” John responded as he headed to his room. 

John placed the gift in his backpack to avoid looking at it and then laid down to process all of this new information. Not realizing how exhausted he was from the turn of events, he promptly fell asleep, only to be awoken by a piercing scream. 

John ran out of his room to the foyer where he saw his mom crumpled on the floor sobbing, clutching a letter. His dad didn’t have the strength to lift her off the ground, as he was also choking on tears. Without either of them saying what had happened, John immediately knew. His brother had died. Unable to form words, he sat by his mom. 

He still felt the way he’d felt when he sat by his mom as he watched his brother get placed in the ground. 

He still felt the way he felt when he sat by his mom as he went to school day after day and feigned interest in the subjects he was being taught. 

On a Sunday night, having not completed his homework yet, John was in search of a pencil. Simply sifting through his bag he was unable to locate it, so he dumped the contents on his bed to see the band Oliver had gifted him fall out. He held it in his hand, just looking at it. Soon he couldn’t make it out anymore with his blurred vision. Remembering what Oliver had said about mourning the losses caused by the war, he proudly tied it on his arm that night and wore it to school the next day. As John headed into school he made it a point to ensure Oliver saw he was wearing the band. When John spotted Oliver outside of school that morning, he dashed over.  

“Hey, Oliver…” John called out to Oliver as he pointed to his arm.

“Hey. Oh, I’m glad you’re wearing it. I, uh, well I wasn’t going to wear it until you did. I figured it would just make you sad. How’s your family?”

“Okay. They’re really sad but I guess they’re at peace because they think he died honorably.”

“What, do you not?”

“I don’t know, I guess. Like my parents blame the people who killed him. But if anything, I blame the people who sent him into the war, not the people who killed him. Is that horrible?”

“No,” Oliver replied as he pulled out his band and tied it to his arm. The two of them walked into school together and for the first day since his brother died, John was excited to be there.