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Page 1 of Kevin’s letter
527 Parliament Street, Apt 2
June 19, 1965
Grampie told me you said I wouldn’t make a good soldier, and you were right. I think this war is immoral, and if you can set aside that gung-ho “my country right or wrong” baloney they fill you full of long enough to really think about it, you’ll see I’m right. This isn’t a war against communism, it’s not even a war at all. It’s an un-war, like the Korean “police action.”
Back in the ’40s General George Patton said that the purpose of fighting a war is to destroy your enemy’s ability to make war (see, I’ve read my history books), but what we’re doing in Vietnam isn’t fighting a war. Congress gave Johnson his Gulf of Tonkin Resolution a year ago, but we’re still not attacking North Vietnam. We’re not destroying their ability to make war, all we’re doing is shoving a stick into a hornet’s nest. We send a whole sky full of bombers from Guam to blast one tiny village somewhere in the jungle and kill a few dozen South Vietnamese civilians, and General Westmoreland thumps his chest and a banner headline reports a big body count of “Viet Cong guerrillas.”
But what about our own body count? How many Americans have been killed? They just sort of sweep that under the rug in the small print, don’t they? Peter, Paul and Mary are still singing about Where Have All the Flowers Gone, but nobody in Washington is listening. Man, we could bomb those poor South Vietnamese people back into the stone age, but that wouldn’t do anything about putting North Vietnam out of business, they’d just keep on coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, wouldn’t they? Or Red China, either, they’re the ones we really need to stop. They got us to give up in Korea, and you just watch, they’ll do it again in Vietnam.
You know why we’re doing this? We’re doing it because it’s good for business. The military-industrial complex is happy as a clam at high tide, the economy is booming because the Air Farce needs lots of bombs for those planes to drop, and people over there are dying so our “captains of industry” can be driven around in their shiny new Cadillacs and Continentals. It’s all well and good to increase our standard of living, but that so-called “standard of living” is really just a lot of wasted effort. I mean, really, who needs a Ford Mustang? It’s just a stupid Falcon, Tommy, but with less room inside. What about things that really matter, like housing and schools? Where’s Johnson’s “Great Society”?
Wake up and smell the napalm, brother mine, and get your ass out before they put you on a boat and ship you over there to get it blown off.
Anyway. As you can see from the return address on this letter, I’m where they can’t get me. I got here on Monday, and I already have a place to live and a job. I’m working as a gofer for CBC Radio News, they’re just down Parliament Street from my apartment, so I can walk to work. Maybe they’ll even let me work my way up; the people there are pretty cool about me being an American who actually knows how to write a coherent sentence. My boss, a guy from Montreal named Edouard Fleury, already thinks they should do an interview with their very own pet draft dodger.
My apartment is small, but it’s not too bad. It’s in a friendly sort of blue-collar neighborhood that the locals call Cabbagetown. The place is a little shabby, which means it’s really cheap, but it’s clean and there’s even a TV, and I’ve got a deal with the landlady. If I do any fixup work she’ll knock some off the rent. I never thought I’d be glad Grampie made me help him around the house.
I’m sure you’re disappointed to think that your little brother is a coward who ran away rather than fight for his country, but I’m not the coward here. I’ve made a decision based on my beliefs, and I’ve acted on it. The cowards are the generals who send young men like you and me off to die for no good reason but wouldn’t dream of exposing themselves to so much as the risk of getting a splinter from a 2×4.
The Washington Post (oh, yes, they can get U.S. papers here!) says there was a big festival of the arts yesterday at the White House, with Johnson pretending to be cultured and all. What a laugh! I find it interesting that Robert Lowell wouldn’t go. I just read a book of his poetry, and I’m not at all surprised to learn that he opposes U.S. foreign policy. Did you ever read his poem “Colonel Shaw and the Massachusetts’ 54th”? You should. The Civil War Centennial is over, but — no, better not get started on civil rights, that’s another whole can of worms.
Oh, while I think of it, I’m sorry I took your pen. I wanted something of the family to have with me, and Uncle Sam’s old pen was the first thing I laid eyes on when I was packing my suitcase. It’s nice, I like writing with it. I’m enclosing $5.00 in this letter, I hope you can find a new pen before you have to go back to Kansas.
And I’m sorry this letter is so bleak and bitter. Sometimes I just get so sick of it all. Give my love to Grampie and Mom, and tell them I’ll write soon.
Letter 11: Rose B. Hall to Jeanne B. Myers
Index to the letters