When I Stopped Believing in War
I was born in 1939 in Greeley, Colorado just before the start of WWII. In the first few years of the war I became aware that something big and terrible was happening over there. But my own childhood was a blissful, uncomplicated scene full of play and fantasy mostly about cowboys and Indians, trappers and explorers in the West. My wardrobe consisted of leather chaps, two cap pistols (revolvers) in holsters on either hip, and a black cowboy hat. My father had a home movie camera and documented the behavior of my older brother and me as we endlessly played cowboy and Indians around the house and yard, blazing away with the sound effects only little boys can make to replicate the sound of a gun. At the Saturday matinee, we watched the serials with the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Tom Mix, Roy Rogers and many other, now forgotten, celluloid heroes.
My father, owing to a heart condition, did not serve in the military, so we were spared the trauma and anxieties that military service brought to many families. Our experience was of a shortage of food staples and basic items like automobile tires, gasoline and shotgun shells for hunting. My father was an avid hunter and fisherman, and supplemented our table with wild game shot or caught year round without regard to the game and fish regulations. Some of my earliest memories involve out of season hunting trips where my brother and I would watch for game (rabbits, pheasants or ducks) as my mother and father watched for the game warden while we drove around eastern Colorado on the weekends hunting from the car. The shots fired were followed by a quick dash by my brother or myself out into a field to snatch up the fruits of my father’s marksmanship and race back to the car for our getaway.
Near the end of the war, a childhood friend of my father’s returned from the European front, recently discharged from duty. One afternoon, he took my older brother and me out for some hiking in the dry lands east of Greeley where my mother and father were to meet us later in the day. My father’s friend had a 45 caliber revolver that he had managed to keep from his service. He showed it to us and then demonstrated the enormous fire power it had by shooting a small tree. The bullet made a small entry hole followed by a huge exit hole that nearly cut the tree down – we were duly impressed. As small children aged 5 or 6 will do, I bluntly asked him if he had shot any enemy soldiers in the war. He just looked at me, first startled by the bold and direct quality of my question, and then with a shocked and pained look that I shall never forget. He never answered the question, but just turned away and was silent for the remainder of our time with him that afternoon. His response to my question was my first glimpse into the horrors of war, my first intuition that war and shooting people really was not alright, even for a good cause. It was only many years later as a postdoctoral research scholar during the Vietnam war that I fully faced up to the realization that war is not the answer.
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