Since humans started roaming the earth they have been fighting with each
other -- tribal wars, religious wars, political wars and sometimes, I
wars just because somebody didn't have anything else to do. If I can
count and remember correctly, I have lived through five of the big
ones. Most of my life we have either been in a war, recuperating from
a war or getting ready to get into another one. Number six, I am sure,
will be my last one.
The First World War and I arrived the same year, but the war made a much
bigger impression on the world than I did. Then came Pearl Harbor and
the Second World War, followed by Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf. I can't
even count the little ones, but in those five major wars of the 20th
century there have been nearly 2 million American casualties.
Several years ago, in going over some old family papers I came across a
hand-written letter, very fragile with the ink beginning to fade. It
is headed "Somewhere or other" and dated July 3, 1918. The postmark
reads "Censored, American Expeditionary Force". It is a letter written
to my father by a college classmate from somewhere in France during that
war that most people alive today remember only when they have to study
for a history test.
The young lieutenant in France thought he was fighting the War to End
All Wars. Little did he know. Seeing that letter and feeling what
might almost be called the innocence of it made me realize how far we
have come in my lifetime in the art of making war, how much practice we
The lieutenant tells Dad of a mutual friend, a soldier who was,
"standing post at a cross-roads about half a mile back of those well
known front line trenches, and it was my business to visit him several
times during the night." He goes on to say that "So far I have not had
a bad time at all over here. Nothing very exciting ever seems to happen
when I am around, but I'm not complaining. I expect to get as much
excitement as is good for me before I get home. Just now I'm sitting
pretty, back in reserve, a couple of miles from the line with nothing to
worry about and a fairly good bed to sleep in." He does complain about
the quality of the beer in France. Actually, he had a good deal to
worry about. The United States suffered over 320,000 casualties in that
war. Even so, this was a far different war than Korea or Vietnam or
even World War II that the vets remember.
Then the young lieutenant waxes poetic and reminds us of still another
far more ancient war when he says, "This is some country over here.
They used to be somewhat behind the times, but Julius Caesar came over
here once and introduced all the latest conveniences of civilization!"
I don't know what happened to him. I can only hope that he returned to
his home safely, but I wonder what he would have thought had he been
alive on September 11, 2001.
My sixth major war is entirely different. Flags are flying and people
are singing patriotic songs, but the feeling is not the same. This one
started and may be fought on our own soil, and our enemy is not a
specific country, but a group of fanatics with huge amounts of money,
fighting with terrorism what they choose to call a religious war.
Maureen Dowd said it all too well when she wrote, ". . . It's like
being at war with the Flintstones, but terrifying as well. This
medieval miscreant is already trying to drag us back to the middle
ages. I decide to defy the foul men who hate women. I wear high heels
I have to believe that humankind will some day learn to live in peace
together, although not in my lifetime. If we don't, Albert Einstein's
statement will be true. "I don't know how man will fight World War III,
but I do know how they will fight World War IV, with sticks and stones."