Universal Soldier

Seattle Dave And The Vietnam Dilemma

When Dave and I hit the highway, I was still buzzing from the after
effects of last night’s show of stars. Hitching was slow; in 13
hours we managed 150 miles. Part of the reason for the bad luck was
Gill, the third party we picked up. One of our rides dropped us off
where Gill was hitching north. Gill was an okay guy, and, he liked
Dave and I, so we headed north together. The problem was that three
hitchhikes have a tough time getting rides.

Gill was from Dallas, on his way to visit relatives in
Waldport, Oregon. We made a good trio, Dave, with his dry sense of
humor, Gill, with his slapstick humor, and me, the laugh track for
both comedians. In addition to wanting to see the West Coast, it
seemed to me, the three of us were also looking for answers to other
questions. When we discussed religion Dave was totally uncommitted,
while Gill was in awe of both God and God’s creation. And, me, well,
I was definitely in awe of God’s creation. When the subject turned
to politics, things got even more interesting.

Gill went for his army physical, but was rejected for a bad
heart, or eyes, or something like that. He wanted to go to Vietnam
and fight communists. This trip out west, I guess, was his
consolation prize. Dave was absolutely against the war. I didn’t
agree with the war, but I was reconciled to the fact that if Uncle
Sam got his way, I would be looking at the Vietcong down the barrel
of a loaded gun. I guess that’s why I found the conversation so
interesting. “If we let the communists take Vietnam,” Gill
said, “they will move on to other countries until they have made
slaves out of all of us.” By “all of us,” Gill meant the parts of
the world that remain free—have free speech, free presses, free and
fair elections, and of course, make and spend lots of money.
According to Gill, if we didn’t stop the commies in Vietnam, in a
matter of time, both Europe and America would find themselves under
the communist boot.

David, on the other hand, had a different opinion. “Vietnam was not
a threat,” he said. “Why should Americans care if the Vietnamese get
their food from a collective farm or a supermarket. We should just
be glad we don’t have to spend tax dollars on care packages for
starving Asians.”

“Do you mean to tell me that you don’t care,” Gill responded, “that
the communists have stolen from the Vietnamese people their human
rights, while denying them the democratic values that you take for
granted? Do you mean to tell me that you don’t believe these crimes
do not threaten American freedoms?”

“Why should I believe,” Dave replied, “that a small country on the
other side of the world, a country that puts the survival of it’s
own people ahead of all else, is a threat to America? You want to
know what is a threat to America? It’s the fear that drives a
country to build enough thermonuclear bombs to blow itself and fifty
Vietnams up. It’s a country that generates enough noxious wastes to
befoul its own environment. It’s a military industrial complex
that `when needed’ takes over and devours third world countries like
Honduras, the Belgium Congo, and Vietnam. And, if that is not
enough, it’s a species so bent on overproducing itself that all
ecological systems are put at risk. America is definitely at risk,
but on a scale where Vietnam doesn’t even make it into the picture.”

Gill hesitated. It was as if he wanted to say something, but decided
not to. Pumped up, Dave began again. “Do you really want to know
what is a threat to America? It is the diseased social order that
piously praises the virtues of democracy, freedom, and equality when
tens of millions of people are denied their humanity because of
racism and poverty. If freedom, equality, and democracy had the same
meaning for the underclass as it had for the upperclass then we
could stop fighting wars altogether. If the benefits that follow
from freedom were evenly distributed, then everybody would have
jobs, a living wage, healthcare, and a good education. Under a more
equalized distribution of wealth humane conditions would follow, and
wars would, if not cease, become brief and infrequent.

“What are you, some kind of a communist?” Gill responded. “For
Christ’s sake, what do you think attacks poverty and gives the poor
hope for a better future? It’s not collective farms; it’s
capitalism, pure and simple. Without capitalism, there would be less
for everybody. Without capitalism, wealth, however you measure it,
would vanish. America would be too weak to protect you, your
property, or whatever else you love. My advise to you is to take
your head out of the sand. In the Free World, getting what you want
comes first. Next comes learning how to keep it.” Before Dave could
reply, a car pulled up, and the driver yelled at us, “If there is a
will there is a way.” We all piled into his little Volkswagen.

Getting into the Volkswagen was not easy. Debris, including the
driver’s luggage, was scattered everywhere. With hindsight, Dave and
I should have put Gill in the car and continued hitching, but at
that point, everybody felt a little greedy, so we pushed, shoved,
and fought our way in until we could close the door. In the car,
there was an additional passenger, also. As I sat in the backseat
with my hands pinned under the gear that was packed on top of me, a
sheep was breathing down my neck. The sheep was stuffed under the
back window in the compartment that was supposed to be for luggage.
The sheep continually baaed in my ear.

There we were, rolling down the highway, with Cream’s, “I’m So
Glad” blasting out of the car’s rear speakers, a sheep screaming
baa, baa, baa in the rear window, and laughter everywhere. The world
could have stopped spinning and nobody in the car would have
noticed, nor would they have cared. In between the music tracks (and
sometimes during), I was brought back to reality by the constant
pull of the sheep munching on my collar. It was impossible to stop
her, and Gill, who was sitting next to me, was unable to help.
Although, I’m not sure Gill’s helplessness was caused by, the
sardine nature of our condition, or the result of his uncontrollable
laughter. When I finally did get out of the car, I was minus one
shirt collar. All things considered, what a bargain!


About bwinwnbwi

About me: Marvin Gaye’s song, "What’s Going On" was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read by him, so I went out and bought Hesse’s last novel, Magister Ludi. I haven’t found the quote yet, but I haven't tired of looking for it either.
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One Response to Universal Soldier

  1. bwinwnbwi says:

    We all have “wow memories” that exponentially inflate the joy of life. The experience described in the above post is, for me, one of those precious memories.

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