How old do we have to be before we realize that history is more than just the dates dead people did things?
World War II was ancient history to me—after all it was over more than a year before I was born! Never mind that the most common topic of conversation among children was “what did your daddy do in the war” or that every time we tossed a handful of dirt into the air, we yelled “bombs over Tokyo”. My daddy was too old to go to war, so I had no point of reference there and I had no clue what a bomb was or what Tokyo meant—it was just something we said.
So I shouldn’t have been surprised when my daughter told me years later that’s how she felt about Viet Nam. That war was over before she was born, so of course it was ancient history.
Now I see Viet Nam vets looking like the WWI vets of my childhood. How can that be? They’re the boys I went to high school with. They’re the young men I had to compete with in college for grades that would keep the draft board happy. We heard the war protest songs. Some marched in protest. Some had bumper stickers on their VW bugs deploring war. Napalm was a household word. Every hour on the hour the news came on to interrupt the good ole rock ‘n roll we listened to and every news report had a body count. The DMZ, Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh, and Laos were part of our collective vocabulary.
And then it was over. We didn’t win. South Viet Nam didn’t win. The guys who came home were spit on and worse. But it was over. Forty years ago today, it ended.
This long-legged girl with long brown hair sat cross-legged on her bed, barefoot and pregnant. The radio was playing all the war protest songs of the last several years and tears of joy were running down my face. My baby would be born in peace! John Lennon sang “Imagine all the people, living life in peace” and The Doors exulted “It’s all over. The war is over” with the sound of church bells pealing and a crowd yelling.
I think my baby realizes now that’s not exactly ancient history.