• Otter Views: What to do with the Sword?

    A Marine Corps dress sword that recently surfaced after many years in storage has sparked an e-mail exchange perhaps fitting for this Memorial week.

    The sword belonged to Robbie Peacock, a boarding school classmate beloved, respected and admired by all who knew him. After college, Robbie earned a commission in the Marines and became a fighter pilot. When his plane was shot down over Vietnam and his remains were never recovered, we never quite recovered either.

    After hoping for years that their only child would return, or be returned, his bereaved parents presented to the school a small bronze sculpture honoring Robbie. Titled “Flight,” it sits atop a pedestal in a quiet courtyard. Whenever any of us returns to the campus, we visit Robbie’s statue and remember him, fondly and sadly.

    It’s probably fair to say most Americans have known someone like Robbie; some bright, cheerful, adventurous, big-hearted classmate or loved one whose promise war quenched too soon.

    On Memorial Day particularly, we miss them, honor them, pray for them, fly flags for them. What we generally don’t do is question why they’re gone. After all, they stepped up when the nation called; served honorably; made the ultimate sacrifice. What more need be said?

    In Robbie’s case, the question would have lain dormant but for his sword’s reappearance. His parents having passed away, the sword ended up with a distant cousin. His recent offer to donate it to Robbie’s old boarding school prompted a poll of classmates, many of whom served in the Vietnam-era military.

    The results have been, to say the least, thought-provoking. Early commenters offered what might be termed the default patriotic response: The sword would make a fitting tribute to Robbie and to fellow military veterans from the school – past, present and to come.

    One classmate who had known Robbie since childhood wrote: “I wonder if the school could show this in a glass trophy case where all could get a sense of history for those who gave the supreme sacrifice for our country? It would be an honor to showcase Robbie’s sword and his legacy.”

    Another longtime friend added: “Robbie is the only graduate to die in service of our country. This (sword) is unique and deserves to find the right place.” A third suggested grouping the sword with memorabilia from other veterans in a composite memorial.

    The discussion might have ended there, but some classmates who saw combat had another viewpoint. “Let it go,” wrote a Vietnam-era pilot who was Robbie’s former roommate and teammate. “The military does not have to be brought onto the scene.” Others concurred.

    One classmate wanted to honor Robbie, but not the war that killed him. “I do not want to offend my brothers who also served and want to forget about this terrible experience and time,” he wrote. “I found serving my country from 1968 to 1971 to be very conflicting to my soul, to my sense of integrity and to my feelings of right and wrong.”

    That war ended with an inglorious U.S. withdrawal 40 years ago, but the same conflicted legacy shadows the nation’s recent Middle East wars and withdrawals. A decade later, even hawkish Americans concede that the Iraq war in particular was a blunder so grotesque it makes the Vietnam quagmire seem almost sensible.

    It’s useful to remember this Memorial week that both wars started not with enemy attacks, but with well-scripted lies. To justify the wholesale invasion of Vietnam, U.S. intelligence concocted in 1964 (and the media embraced) a “Tonkin Gulf Incident” in which an American vessel supposedly took North Vietnamese fire. That never happened, but the lie worked well enough to doom 55,000 U.S. service members and countless Vietnamese.

    A well-scripted lie also launched the most recent Iraq war, although in fairness it wasn’t a tough sell in the aftermath of 9-11. Americans were bloodied and furious, and somebody needed to pay.

    That we went after the Iraqis, rather than the Saudis who planned and carried out the 9-11 attacks, was a masterful “redirect” by the Bush-Cheney administration. To sell the coming invasion, all hands pitched the canard that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons and other “WMD” and must be toppled. When no WMD were found, “faulty intelligence” was made the scapegoat. That lie’s still working.

    It has been instructive watching current presidential hopefuls jitterbug around the question: “if we knew then what we know now.” But the truth is, we knew it all along. And we knew it in Vietnam, too. We just didn’t want to acknowledge it. No one in power acknowledged it either, of course, but that’s how power self-perpetuates.

    Meanwhile, the Robbie Peacocks among us vanish too soon, leaving their ceremonial swords for the future’s consideration.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on May 29, 2015

    Topics: Otter Views

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