where were you in '52?
i was closest to that "conflict" via my only uncle, who had served there, but who never felt like talking about it all that much. the impression i took from his silence was of something terrible and necessary, and perhaps deserving of better recognition, though far be it from a soldier to ever complain publically about his (or her) lot. the difference in the magnitude of honors freely bestowed on veterans of WWII (e.g. my father) were obvious even to me as a small child, and it was something that i sensed contributed to my uncle's rancor against opposition to our involvement in vietnam--that the memory of the 58,000 who were to die there was being diminished in a very familiar way--while my father was perhaps freer to achieve a more liberal point of view. (which is to say, neither of them cared much for protesters, but my father could at least speak eugene mccarthy's name out loud).
either way, i never got the idea that either of them ever had gone to war with an expectation that it was guaranteed to turn out well for them or their side. oh, surely they had confidence and commitment that it would, and a firm belief in the just nature of their cause, but they never showed anything so arrogant as expectation. war, to them, did not seem to be like that, or at least that's the way that i remember my impressions of it when i was a small boy. yet, today, i wonder at how supremely confident we have become, and expecting of our success and superiority. does anyone who remembers '52 see it differently?
the reason i'm compelled to ask is that i'm seriously fearful for the potential of mayhem on the korean penninsula these days. this is no cowboy's escapade, to be undertaken (or not) on a whim, without much for real geo-political consequences. (can you imagine the US invading anything in the 50's or 60's without immediate russian and/or chinese deployments in opposition?) no, this one is much larger than that, and for much bigger stakes, with actual nuclear warheads on the other side, and the ever-clear potential to drag all the classic bogeymen into the fray. we've got, what, a few hundred thousand troops in iraq and afghanistan, and it's taxing our armed forces pretty heavily. yet, it took 6.8 MILLION servicemen just to keep korea at a stand-off back in the day. somebody, somewhere, has to be doing some very quick math, and talking about all sorts of tactical possibilities, and that's a very sobering thing to contemplate.
i find myself falling easily into the blind confidence of my generation. i know we have to draw the line with north korea, and my only regret is that our prior presidential administration wasn't clear-eyed enough to see the vast difference in the magnitude and importance between kim's north korea and hussein's iraq. here is a conflict that MAKES a difference in more than just the polarization of islamists against "the west". (which is bad enough). here is a conflict that draws dangerous men, with true and vast deadly force at their whim, into making rash and nothing-to-lose decisions that can immediately impact BILLIONS of innocent people, depending on where they target their warheads. of course we will prevail--we must--but it's the cost that puts the knot in our guts this time.
my uncle fought for what he knew was right, in a time when there were no expectations of prevailing. today, we have to decide if we have that same kind of courage.