Archived Story

Exposing the horror and cost of real war

Published 11:41am Friday, June 15, 2012

Like many parents, we struggle with our children’s desire to play video games.

The boys’ idea is to get up at 5:30 a.m. every day and play video games until bedtime with a few brief breaks for food.

Our ideas run more along the lines of a one-hour daily game limit.

A bigger point of disagreement is about video game violence. We are frequently informed that the boys’ friends, also 8 and 10 years old, get to play violent, first-person shooting games of a military nature. We have, so far, resisted our boys’ many suggestion that they be allowed to join the fun.

Our household Chief Safety Officer believes exposure to war-type game violence would soon have us living with a trio of drooling, knife-wielding little serial killers. I do not share that concern.

It does worry me, though, that children who play these realistic, consuming military games may never grasp that in the real world combat is not fun and war is not amusing.

My friends and I played at being soldiers. We also watched scary nightly news reports about Vietnam. As we got older, some of us had brothers who were drafted and who, even as children we could sense were terrified about what they might encounter. We had a general sense that war was not something we really wanted to experience.

Today, the media don’t cover war in the same grim fashion. Instead, the images video-gaming kids see focus on the glory and fun of combat.

It may be naïve, but I hope that part of a solution may be to have our boys read some of the accounts of the Vietnam War, and of our fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, that make it clear just how horrible war can be.

Herald columnist Bob Vilt stopped by my office this week with a copy of his Vietnam War memoir, fresh off the presses. “You Much Crazy,” draws its title from the phrase that a Vietnamese man used as he helped Bob and three buddies build a bunker at the artillery base where they were stationed near Duc Pho.

Or, at any rate, that’s the surface reason for the title. As readers continue on, it becomes clear that there’s far more to the story.

Bob’s book does a clear and concise job of explaining how a young man from Austin, Minn., ended up stationed for eight months on a hill in Vietnam, and about his difficult journey home. Along the way it evokes images of American life in the 1960s that will stir older readers’ memories of a different time and perhaps bemuse younger readers who are used to the tightly controlled 21st Century.

“You Much Crazy” reminded me of another very good Vietnam War book. “Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War,” is based on the experiences of Marine Karl Marlantes. A much-decorated officer who commanded a rifle platoon in 1969, Marlantes worked on the book for 35 years before finally finding a publisher. That three-decade stretch may be more indicative of the nation’s taste for Vietnam War stories than about the quality of the writing, because the book is superb.

“Matterhorn” is a far bloodier and more graphic account of the war — or of the author’s small slice of the war — than is Bob’s memoir. But they have a couple of things in common: They both make clear how utterly pointless the conflict in Vietnam seemed to be for the soldiers involved, and they both make it clear that in real life war means bad things are happening.

Neither book is age-appropriate for our own children, who as yet do not understand that unfettered violence is bad in so many ways. But as they get older, I hope they read them both.

Either book will disabuse readers of the notion that war is anything but hell.


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