Coyote is on vacation and The Tourist is drinking wine in the café. Fall has been stunning but that drop from flamboyant beauty to messy decay always creates a pensiveness easily mistaken for depression. We are coming to the turning of the Celtic year, soon to be followed – if the prophecies are to be believed – by the turning of the Maya year. The election … well …..
Months have passed; years have passed. Whatever ground we gained has slipped away. New obstacles arise, and faintness of heart, and dread.
Annie Dillard, Expedition to the Pole
In a recent column on the rise of neo-fascism in Europe, military historian Barry Strauss tells of an incident in a park in Italy where he and his wife were approached by a man deploring the removal of “Sir Benito” Mussolini’s name from a monument they were looking at. Barry says,
Italy is a wonderful country and the Italians are the salt of the earth. But society there has never come to grips with its painful past.
Neither have we. It’s not something we like to do, mostly because if we did, the wheels could come off this bus in a hurry. There are so many places to start – Native Americans and slavery come to mind – but I am speaking to Boomers now so let’s talk about the Vietnam War.
Last year, before I travelled to Hanoi, I posted to the UNC alumni group on Linkedin asking for memories of the war/anti-war years. The first people who responded threw insults, generalizations, and accusations at me because I was part of the anti-war movement. I was startled by their response to what had seemed to me almost a nostalgic request but what alarmed me was my own reaction. I was ready to jump right back in, outraged and righteous. It was as if, even in my own mind and I had been pondering the problem, no time had passed.
The generation that became adults during the Vietnam War has been called selfish and entitled and perhaps we are. There are a lot of us and we are, arguably, noisy and demanding. At one time, though, we got it into our heads that we could change the world. We believed in things. We were passionate. Then when we were not, in fact, able to usher in the Age of Aquarius we lost heart, went off into our various corners, and hoarded our dashed illusions along with our Dylan albums. Let’s just say it: we sulked.
Now here we are, at what is supposed to be the Wisdom stage of our lives. From the benefit of the years we don’t want to admit we have lived through, we are supposed to be the elders of the community. That doesn’t mean things get to be our way. That means we have looked, clear-eyed, at the events of our lives and seen larger lessons in them. It means we have given thought to our spiritual legacy.
I don’t know how to come to grips with the Vietnam War but I know we should do it or we will be berating strangers in public parks or on Linkedin groups. We can notice that our idealism has mellowed and we can talk about that. We can pick up the conversation we were holding then that isn’t finished. We can start conversations we never had between civilians and veterans. We can listen, deeply, to stories that have been silenced. We can still do what we did not do at the time – actually learn something about the little Asian country that has played such a pivotal role in our lives. There is still time. It is not too late.
Our country is in a cycle of war, still trying to win the one we lost by finding yet another country we can “help.” It doesn’t work but we don’t seem to know how to stop. So this is a question and I don’t have an answer: could the Boomers find some way to change the model? Again?