Sunday, January 21, 2007

Along the road.

Sunday, January 21, 2007
Yesterday as I was driving along Route 55 in south Jersey, I heard some numbers mentioned in a radio broadcast.
As I listened, I did some math.
If the 21,500 soldiers that George Bush is planning to send to Iraq were lined up alongside a highway they would make a line 12.21 miles long. At typical highway speed it would take a little over ten minutes to drive past them all. About as much time as it takes to hear Bob Dylan’s “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” or “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” by Traffic, just to give two examples from the Itunes library here on my laptop. Or Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major or the Violin Concerto No. 5, also in A Major.
They’d be there, the soldiers, as you sped by. You might think, "Wow, that's a lot of guys". Even if they weren’t dressed in uniforms you’d have a pretty good clue as to what they were.

If the 3,250 soldiers who have died in that conflict were lined up alongside a highway they’d make a line a little over 4.3 miles long. Some of you might point out an apparent mistake in the math that I’ve done. I’ll explain: I have given the soldiers yet-to-go 3 feet of space to stand in. The soldiers who have been killed are given 7 feet of space. I think we would all agree that the dead soldiers should not be made to stand.

I may not be a reliable narrator. I was able, through incredibly good luck, to avoid serving in the Armed Forces during the Vietnam War, the war of my youth. I was in college – an incredibly lucky thing in itself, regardless of the political situation – and I also had a high number in the lottery that was being used as a means of selecting young men to fight the war. Most of the guys I knew back then were worried about being called up. We'd talk about it around the kitchen table at my mother's house. Vietnam didn’t look like a good place to be. I was very lucky. I guess George W. Bush was lucky, too.
At times I feel what I have to guess is survivor’s guilt. I get very emotional when I see the pictures of the young and not-so-young men and women who have been killed in Iraq.
Having not served, I sit here in the comfort of my warm kitchen and type this meditation on what 21,500 and 3,250 mean.
12.21 miles, 4.3 miles. Along the road.

1 comment:

Bob_Lem said...


I too pulled the high draft number and did not pull my share of the wrong-burden during Vietnam.

There is a scene in Forrest Gump where a rocket is fired from air to ground. It is lightning quick, and I knew watching it, that I would have been killed if I had gone to Nam. I was in the dream world then - would have a better chance now...

I am looking out at snow on white pine as I write, this world, this life so beautiful, so chilling, so deep...