The following was written by Douglas Cohn, a
Vietnam veteran, and appeared in Jack Andersonís column, which is
distributed by United Feature Syndicate and was published in the
Decatur Daily on April 5. We include it on the Alabama Veterans
Museum and Archives Web site because the sentiments expressed are in
accordance with the philosophy of our museum.
War is Tragedy
War is tragedy. There is no place in war for gloating. Those of us
who have been in war, who have shot and been shot, never gloated. If
we volunteered, we volunteered out of patriotism, killing our
countryís enemies if we must, capturing them if we could. This is
why the soldiers, marines and pilots fighting in Iraq are not
gleeful after combat. Rather, it is political leaders who have never
heard shots fired in anger who thump their chests.
War should be waged as a last resort. It should be waged reluctantly
and soberly. Its ultimate objective is to persuade enemies to lay
down their arms, not their lives. However, killing is a reactive
response when someone is trying to kill you, though the only joy in
it is to survive it. Winston Churchill said, "There is nothing so
exhilarating as to be shot at without effect." But survival and
killing are quite different, and they evoke different emotions.
Indeed, tears are more prevalent than cheers at such times.
I vividly remember an encounter with the Viet Cong in 1970. We heard
noise to the front. Five of us at the point of our column quietly
spread out left and right in the thick jungle, and I told them not
to fire until the enemy was literally on top of us. The first of
them walked right into the man next to me and froze, startled as the
teenage private squeezed off a round and shot him through the head.
I killed the next man behind him. My platoon had standing orders to
drop their packs and race toward the sound of the guns. They did so
in seconds, and we overran the enemy. There was no joy when it was
over. This was fighting as close as it gets, and the man who killed
the first VC broke down and cried. I told him I was proud of him,
proud of his humanity, proud of his tears. Everyone who serves in
combat is wounded in one way or another.
We lived in the jungle, but we were not animals. We killed the
enemy, but we were not murderers. But we went on, weeks and months
on end, killing and being killed, capturing when we could. There
were rules of war and we obeyed them. And in the midst of it all, we
never learned to hate our enemy. Soldiers tend to respect one
another. It is a sentiment that does not hold for those who break
the rules like Iraqi soldiers wearing civilian clothes or hiding
behind noncombatants. It does not hold for terrorists and torturers.
They are cowards and killers, not soldiers.
So do not look for gloating among combat veterans. The men and women
fighting in Iraq are fighting heat, sand and bugs. They fight
without sleep. They suffer cuts, infections and nauseating
illnesses. They know the confusion of a firefight and the absence of
clarity that comes with urban combat. They learn to live with fear
and will not realize how intense the pressure was until they are
safely out of harmís way. Even then their memories will be
permanently seared. Some of them are left with debilitating wounds
and consider themselves lucky. They suffer the pain of loss when
comrades die. They suffer anguish when they inspect enemy dead,
whose motives or compulsory actions they cannot know. There lies
someoneís loved one. Douglas Cohn, Vietnam Veteran