Tuesday, August 02, 2005

For The Kids

Every summer, my town gets a visit from the Navy.

A ship pulls into harbor and hundreds of sailors swarm up into the streets for shoreleave -- spilling out of bars and restaurants, filling the sidewalks, turning up everywhere you look. And it's startling how much they stand out.

We don't see uniforms much anymore around here -- not even with a Coast Guard base right in town and a Naval Air Station just an hour's drive down the highway. Even though we've been at war for two years, to actually *see* a member of the Armed Forces, in person, is something of an oddity.

Out of sight, out of mind, in other words. And I think that's probably true of most of the rest of the country. Most of us don't serve, don't have friends or relatives serving, and the only time we ever really think about the Armed Forces is when we flick thru the news channels or browse the newspaper and see one of those head-shot photos they run over the obituaries of the latest casualties.

I stopped into a local pub tonight to grab a quick supper -- and was surrounded by kids in white. Angular, lanky young men and slender, wiry young women, all in crisp, knife-creased uniforms. And each and every one of them was a *kid.*

Oh, occasionally you might see a grownup -- a craggy, salty old CPO with an arm full of hashmarks -- but all I saw tonight were kids. Not one of them out of their early twenties, and the waitresses were on standing orders that every one of them had to show ID before being served drinks.


The kind of kids who joined the service right out of high school, looking for a chance to improve their lot, a chance to make something of themselves, a chance to pick up some skills, a chance to get away from whatever two-bit towns they came from. Kids who were the right age to be *my* kids.

That's who fights wars, you know. Those fresh-faced, laughing kids. We pack them up, send them off, and some of them don't come home again. And aside from their families, the rest of us never give them a thought.

I watched those kids, and I thought about this war, and I thought about how the people responsible for it have gone out of their way to avoid living up to their responsibilities to those kids and their families. That's Republican family values for you. That's the sort of two-bit phony patriotism that thinks its perfectly fine for other people's children to fight and die for a trumped-up cause.

I ate my supper. But I didn't have much appetite.

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