HARBESON: Some deep thinking about war
> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I hesitated before submitting last week’s column wondering whether medals and commemorations may stifle the critical analysis of war. I knew it would probably upset some people and it did.
However, I’m glad I pushed on because I received a very interesting letter from Mr. Sanford “Sandy” Kelson, a veteran who was not upset.
Mr. Kelson was born in 1944 and joined the U. S. Army in 1963. He explains why:
“When I was growing up, my education caused me to believe certain things. Education is not just what you learn in school. It’s what you learn at home, from TV, newspapers, the movies, from music, art, etc. I got a consistent message from all these sources. I learned that we Americans were special. We were better than others. Our form of government was the best; our economic system was the best; our leaders were more intelligent and just; we were more honest, smarter, more trustworthy and brave. God was on our side ...
“So, in 1963, young and patriotic, I enlisted in the U.S. Army for a three year tour of duty ...”
He became a sergeant in charge of a 10-man machine gun squad and although his outfit ended up going to Vietnam, Kelson himself did not. He continued:
“Just before my outfit was due to be shipped out, my commanding officer, a captain, summoned me to his office. He explained that since I had less than 90 days remaining in my three-year tour of duty that I would not be going to Vietnam. My orders were changed from going to Vietnam to being discharged from the Army and being shipped back home to Pittsburgh, Penn., to safety, to the bosom of my family, while my outfit, my buddies, would be going to Vietnam, into harm’s way. I was so naive and stupid that I had no idea what this would mean to me later on.
“After I got home, I started getting letters from my friends who were in Vietnam. The letters told of horror after horror.”
He shared stories about several men from his outfit who were killed or permanently injured. The stories in his email are extremely gory and unpleasant. But, I’m glad he sent them; we should all learn the gory and unpleasant details of war.
He then shared another letter:
“A buddy wrote and said, Sandy, everybody here hates us. I wondered, how could any of them hate us? My friends were dying to protect them from communism, from the North. We were spending billions of dollars in Vietnam. How could they hate us? We were the good guys, we wore the white hats. I was confused. Things didn’t add up. I began to critically think — possibly, for the first time in my life. Up until then, I had believed what I had been told by my government on faith. Faith is the belief in something for which there is no proof. I started going to the library and I read everything I could on Vietnam …”
“I have been speaking to students to tell them my story. I ask that students do not take what I say as truth. If students do, then, in a way, I will have done to them what others did to me as a young person … I ask that you not accept what anybody tells you as truth. Not your parents, not your teachers, not your religious leaders. You must explore, by reading, discussing and critically thinking and find your own truth and then to act on it for the benefit of all the peoples of the world, our brothers and sisters.”
There is much, much more in Mr. Kelson’s email. If you think it’s time you started taking a deeper, more critical look at war, let me know and I will be happy to forward his letter to you.
— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson is hoping to wear out her index finger pushing the forward button on her computer this week.